Australia is slowly catching up with other parts of the world, where sporting events have been put behind closed doors, postponed or cancelled. On Friday, the season-opening Formula One grand prix in Melbourne was cancelled due to fears over the spread of the coronavirus but with the NRL season having started on Thursday night and the AFL season beginning next week – and a host of other codes either currently running or about to begin – how do the major Australian sports stand to be impacted in the coming weeks and months?
The 2020 NRL season kicked off on Thursday night, when the Eels played the Bulldogs at Bankwest Stadium, and a full opening round schedule follows over the weekend. There are no plans to restrict access to games at this stage, but the NRL has sent an advisory document to all clubs outlining measures to prevent the spread of the virus. The league has previously stated it may lock down games if advised to do so. The Women’s Premiership does not start for six months, but major state competitions across Queensland and New South Wales begin this weekend. The State of Origin series will be played in Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane in June and July.
The AFLW season is in full swing while the men’s competition is slated to start next week, with the traditional AFL curtain-raiser between Richmond and Carlton scheduled for Thursday night at the 90,000-plus capacity MCG. Earlier in the week, the league’s chief executive, Gillon McLachlan, said it remains the intention to play every men’s game this season, but the AFL is prepared to heed advice from health experts and exclude the public from matches should the outbreak worsen. That advice would include playing behind closed doors. The round 11 match between St Kilda and Port Adelaide in China has already been moved to Marvel Stadium.
Unlike many leagues across the world, both the A-League and the W-League have continued despite the threat of the coronavirus. The A-League is mid-season while the W-League’s semi-finals are scheduled for this weekend and the grand final the week after. Small crowds are expected at upcoming games but there has been no indication from Football Federation they will be cancelled this weekend. FFA has previously stated it has been proactively monitoring the situation for months and will take advice from relevant government departments before moving to cancel any matches. The A-League regular season runs until the end of April, with the grand final set for the weekend of 16 May.
The Matildas’ Olympic qualifying campaign has been affected by the virus – their game against China was moved from Wuhan to Sydney and was then delayed with the Chinese team put into isolation in their hotel – but they qualified for the Games in Tokyo on Wednesday night in an empty stadium in Vietnam. Their next fixtures are on 11 and 15 April in the US and Canada respectively. On Thursday, the US closed its borders to all travellers from Europe, where a number of the Matildas play their club football. The Socceroos’ World Cup qualifiers have also been affected – Fifa and the AFC have postponed Asian qualifiers in March and June – although they may instead look to set up fixtures with other nations. A decision on that is yet to be made.
It is currently the netball off-season, but with Super Netball scheduled to start at the beginning of May, Netball Australia moved this week to establish a Covid-19 working group which is monitoring the situation closely. The panel’s brief is to ensure all stakeholders have the most relevant and timely information on hand, but at this stage all events will go ahead as planned.
The Women’s World Twenty20 final went ahead at the MCG in front of a record crowd of more than 80,000 during the early stages of the outbreak in Australia last weekend, at the end of a tournament that had passed unaffected by the virus. Australia’s women were due to play ODI and T20 series in South Africa, starting on 22 March, but that was suspended until further notice on Friday. Cricket Australia said it was monitoring the situation before making a decision on international matches beyond that. The three-match ODI series between Australia’s men and New Zealand, starting on Friday, will proceed as planned, but behind closed doors. Meanwhile, the four remaining matches of the Sheffield Shield will proceed as scheduled.
The ATP Tour, on which the likes of men’s stars Nick Kyrgios and Alex De Minaur play, has been shut down for a minimum of six weeks, after the prestigious Indian Wells tournament was cancelled earlier this week. The Fed Cup finals in Hungary next month, which would have featured Ash Barty and Australia, have been postponed. The ITF said it remains committed to delivering the tournament and it is working to find a suitable alternative date. But the WTA Tour could follow the ATP’s decision to suspend all play until late April. “It’s a bit of a moving target for the guys at the moment,” men’s Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt said.
Given Super Rugby’s international composition, it is no surprise it has already been affected. Two of the Japan-based Sunwolves’ matches have been relocated to Australian venues, while a spectator who attended the weekend’s game between the Rebels and Lions in Melbourne tested positive for the virus. Rugby Australia said on Wednesday all players and support staff across the competition and both national sevens teams are being assessed on a daily basis for signs of illness. But there are no plans for upcoming Super Rugby games to be cancelled, nor the final regular season games of the Super W competition this weekend.
Australian World Tour team Mitchelton-Scott has pulled out of all men’s and women’s events until at least 22 March as a precautionary measure to minimise the risk of Covid-19. Cycling Australia released a statement this week advising that all programmes and events should proceed as scheduled, although it also issued several recommendations for people attending those events.
Swimming Australia is another peak body that is “closely monitoring the situation” and its possible impact. On Thursday it issued guidelines to those attending upcoming meets “to keep the swimming community as healthy as possible during this period of time”. This weekend’s NSW State Open Championship and April’s national championships remain in the diary. Olympic and Paralympic trials are not scheduled to be contested until June.
A dedicated Covid-19 website has been created by the Australian Institute of Sport with up-to-date information on the virus and its relevance to sport.