How much do you miss watching a game of footy on a sunny Sunday afternoon, or setting your alarm for some ungodly hour of the morning to catch a premier league match?
It almost hurts to think about the good old days before coronavirus robbed us of such simple pleasures, but as curves continue to flatten and restrictions begin to ease, we’re inching that much closer to getting to watch our favourite sports again—at least on the screen.
In Australia, sport accounts for about 3% of the GDP, and its return will have a big impact on re-establishing a sense of normality in our society. But first, leagues like the NRL, AFL and Super Rugby will have to adjust to a new set of rules and regulations set by the Australian Institute of Sport to ensure the safety of their players and the wider community. Overseas, leagues like the NBA, MLB and EPA have a different, slightly rockier path back to kick off. Here’s how it’s looking so far for each sport.
As per the AIS framework for rebooting sport in Australia, every team in the NRL must adhere to the 15 ‘national principles’ set out in a 36-page document released over the weekend. There are three phases—A, B, and C—of the framework, with contactless training commencing first, followed by tackling and drill training, and finally, competition. With teams beginning no-contact training this week with a plan to move to contact training next week, things look on track for the promised May 28 kick off, albeit without spectators for the foreseeable future. The resumed competition will consist of 20 rounds, with 18 round still to be played. The grand final will be played on October 25th with State of Origin to follow. The NRL held a COVID-19 ‘player education day’ last week which taught players about the code’s new biosecurity measures, which include temperature testing, shoe-changing, moving tracking, and social distancing. Here’s to hoping Nathan Cleary was present for class.
The Australian Football league looks set to make their second attempt to restart their season on the 11th of June, though that date is tentative. Also adhering to the AIS-endorsed sports return blueprint, the AFL is moving to begin training by mid to late May. Players will be made to use hand sanitiser upon entry and exit to venues, as well as pre, post and during training, with a full body shower mandatory before and after games and training. In order for all teams to be able to compete in the league, state border restrictions would have to be lifted, otherwise teams would have to adhere to 14-day isolation periods after traveling inter-state. According to the WA government, as it stands, Fremantle and West Coast would have to relocate east if the AFL season resumes in a fly-in, fly-out model.
Rugby Australia has submitted a proposal to the government but it is unlikely that the competition will restart until sometime in July.
Any concrete announcement is at least a week away, with players expect to have a 3-4 week “pre-season” before the competition resumes. The competition was suspended after seven rounds after New Zealand shut its borders. It is likely that the focus of the re-formatted competition will be domestic, with the possible addition of the Western Force to the Australian pool.
English Premier League
The UK has also been hit much harder than Australia by the pandemic, but the Premier League is working closely with the government to resume closed door matches on the 8th of June. They also aim to complete the 2019-2020 season by around the 27th of July. Creatively dubbed ‘Project Restart’, the current plan requires full training to begin by the 18th of May, though Arsenal, Brighton and West Ham have reportedly already begun individual workouts on their training grounds. Currently, only one player can train on the pitch at a time, and each player must arrive and leave the training grounds alone. As with every other sporting code, players anticipate playing to empty stadium seats. While it won’t be the same without hordes of drunk Brits chanting “your wife is a grass” at Jamie Vardy, it’s a hell of a lot better than nothing.
With a significant increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths in the US, the path to getting players back on the court isn’t as clear cut. Everyone from politicians to players to fans are trying to figure out how to make it work, both for economic and social reasons. The main hurdle is that in order to safely resume competition, each player and staff member would have to be tested regularly for the virus, and right now, test kits and protective equipment including masks and gloves remain in short supply in some US states. All organisations are in agreement that they do not want to take tests away from everyday Americans who truly need them. While some organisations aim to reopen their facilities for voluntary workouts in the coming days, until the testing issue is resolved, a restart date remains elusive. Looks like LeBron will just have to wait a little longer for that fourth ring.
One of the only leagues that wasn’t immediately affected by the coronavirus crisis was the NFL, which ended in February and is set to recommence on September 10, as planned. Although, that’s not entirely true, because this year’s remote draft definitely affected CeeDee Lamb’s relationship with his girlfriend. NFL’s lead council has expressed that he shares the NBA’s reservations around testing, saying, “We want to make sure that we’re testing people in an appropriate way if we do it, and have clear and consistent standards.”