A-League suspension was later than expected, but was inevitable for more reasons than the obvious
As borders closed within Australia and across the world -- likely to remain as such indefinitely -- that the A-League continued this weekend bordered on the absurd.
This is before putting discussion surrounding this past weekend's play into context: an increase in -- and pardon the phrasing, here -- overseas exposure, as a consequence of global pandemic and isolation. All the while, other leagues and sports have suspended.
Football Federation Australia chief executive James Johnson confirmed on Tuesday morning, the A-League would follow suit. For the time being, FFA will review the decision on April 22. Begrudgingly, regrettably so, given the fact football at local level has faced a relatively quicker postponement.
"Each time we've made these decisions, there have been two points that have been at the centre of our decision making," Johnson said at a news conference on Tuesday.
"The first point has always been the wellbeing of our people, our community, our players, our fans, our staff, our officials. This has been at the forefront of our thinking.
"The second point is our civic duty as a code, to be a responsible citizen and help the Australian community and support the efforts to slow down the spread of the virus.
"We were comfortable taking the initial decision to allow the league to proceed, but we always did it upon the understanding that this is an evolving virus. We needed to be responsible at all times, and we needed to react ... quickly."
One can't conclude that common sense prevails when a hand has been forced, but the new FFA CEO and his board were faced with an impossible task. The logistical gymnastics performed to this point highlighted that.
The competition reportedly had to press on, in fear of a potential breach of contract with the Australian television rights holder and financial devastation.
Following Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory's bungled race to re-enter Australia and escape a 14-day quarantine, the ability to simply run the competition became an impracticality. This, outside of the obvious health risks provided by playing amid a global pandemic, one that requires caution above all else.
As health experts have explained, the disease is spread through condensations that can cover a 1.5 metre radius and remain transmittable via inanimate objects. A relatively definitive rate of infection could only be quantified with greater testing, but it has been estimated that an average person can spread the disease to three other people.
A professional athlete is not an average person by definition, but this becomes even more prevalent given the rate and nature of interaction they have. In football, consider the nature of contact at set pieces, in duels for the ball, after a goal is scored, or an embrace upon substitution.
There's also the nature of close contact and rate of travel, outside of actually playing games. They work and interact with scores of individuals devoted to their physical performance, all accustomed to a friendly tactility. Then -- in contrast to an average person who is at their place of work almost solely when they work -- there's the long pre and post-match period, which could include sharing of food and beverages to replenish energy and sharing of equipment, along with extensive socialising between players.
This was the case on Monday night before, during and after Newcastle Jets' 2-1 win over Melbourne City. As one player who took part at Hunter Stadium on Monday night told ESPN, social distancing counts for nothing when compared to the close quarters players encounter during matches.
In short, many people with many points of contact, touching many things and many other people. The point of all this is to, firstly, highlight just how hard it would have been to eliminate the risk to health and wellbeing that came with the A-League continuing.
Secondly, it is to underline how much of a bloody miracle it is, there has not been one confirmed case from the Melbourne City camp -- especially considering the location of their training facility, LaTrobe University in Bundoora, has shut down face-to-face classes after a student tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in March.
"The coronavirus is first and foremost a public health issue, but it is also having a major impact on the economy and the financial system," Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Philip Lowe had said last week.
"The result [of social distancing and restriction of movement] has been major disruptions to economic activity across the world. This is likely to remain the case for some time yet as efforts continue to contain the virus."
As noted, however, the FFA were put in a position where they either had to secure the physical safety of participants or everyone's financial safety. This has already become widely accepted within the Australian footballing fraternity and for a relatively new board, it is an unenviable position to be stuck in.
What it fails to consider -- much like the Australian economy's own current placement on the precipice -- was this end point with Fox Sports was inevitable and the outbreak of COVID-19 has only accelerated it, due to the precariously dependent nature of the model.
In comparison, with or without COVID-19, the Australian housing bubble was on verge of bursting and recession has been imminent. The injection of debt into the market following the global financial crisis in 2007, amid an unprecedented resources boom, indicated the highly exposed position of the economy.
As the Australian dollar plummets against other currencies and share prices tumble, due to the elimination of a non-essential services industry that makes up the bulk of the economy, quantitative easing is the only option. Irrespective of the consequences.
Similarly to that injection of debt and steady decline in production, the primary objective in Australian football over the same period has been to maintain a status quo -- and as seen with both in this current situation, overly leveraged infrastructures become susceptible when variables shift.
So, until this past weekend for the FFA, continuing with the A-League while everything else in football stopped was the only option. Irrespective of the consequences. Ultimately, though, Australian football was going to arrive at this point one way or another. The realities of that simply came 12 months in advance.