The wait for AFL fans is finally over, with CEO Gillon McLachlan finally handing down a decision on the start of the season.
Following a week of doubt and ever-evolving scenarios around the coronavirus pandemic, McLachlan announced on Wednesday night that the season will begin on Thursday night.
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Richmond's season opener against Carlton will of course be played behind closed doors at the MCG but the fact it's going ahead is music to the ears of most footy fans.
The decision to push ahead in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic came after a marathon AFL Commission meeting followed by a teleconference with all 18 club chief executives on Wednesday.
"I think the Commission needed to consider widely and understand the position clearly of the chief medical officer and the medical industry, of government, of our clubs, our presidents, our industry really," McLachlan told reporters.
The first four of a scheduled 17 rounds will be crammed into a quicker time frame if possible, with the competition to be postponed immediately if and when any player or official tests positive to coronavirus.
The AFLW season will also go ahead this weekend, although the last two home and away rounds have been ditched, with the finals to commence straight away.
Some 88 per cent of AFL players voted on Monday night in favour of starting the season this week despite the outbreak of COVID-19, which has prompted sporting leagues around the world to shut down.
"Our industry is unified in making a decision to start," said McLachlan.
"The reality is that this season will not look like any other.
"As I said earlier in the week this is an unprecedented challenge and it is going to take unprecedented action to get through it all
"We've taken action in both the men's and women's seasons.
"The 153 games will not look like a standard 17-round season.
"But footy is resilient and footy will find a way through."
Earlier in the day, Richmond coach Damien Hardwick said the Tigers were ready and willing to kick off their premiership defence against the Blues.
All round-one games will be played behind closed doors with shortened 16-and-a-half minute quarters plus time-on.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a range of new measures on Wednesday morning, including a ban on all non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people.
But the PM made it clear that it was up the AFL and NRL to determine whether or not to postpone their seasons.
While most footy fans were overwhelmingly happy with the AFL’s decision, others insisted it was irresponsible to push ahead with the season in the current climate.
Good. The people need this.— JustJan2 (@bimmyjartel) March 18, 2020
AFL sticking to the 17 rounds (at most) . Good decision. Can't fit 22 weeks in. Players need to take a pay cut #AFL— Matt (@Mattys123) March 18, 2020
Phew 😅 AFL going ahead for now 🤞— Kay Cadzow 🇦🇺 (@kay_cadzow) March 18, 2020
While I’m a bit shocked & concerned the AFL is going ahead this weekend.. I’m gonna be tuning in to every game. Brings some enjoyment right now.— Andrew French (@AFrenchy91) March 18, 2020
What a piss poor decision @AFL, going against the very medical advice that the public is being urged to follow. Completely undermines all other public distancing measures.— Josh Rayner (@JoshuaKRayner) March 18, 2020
Not sure the @AFL made the right move here. Put it back 4 weeks and avoid issues.— #ImpeachJoshHall (@RealFreeBrowny) March 18, 2020
But you know.....money
Disgraceful decision by the @AFL. Season should have been postponed.— Derek (@I_am_Derek_) March 18, 2020
I’m an absolute Avid sports fanatic. AFL being my favourite sport. But I am pretty disappointed at how desperate the AFL and NRL look to get games on the board purley due to financial reasons. Nothing else.— snico (@seannico38) March 18, 2020
Money talks. Obviously the afl doesn’t care about players welfare. All they care about is revenue and meeting their kpi— klastydaklown (@ponding001) March 18, 2020
AFL finally makes call after days of days of indecision
Wednesday loomed as D-Day for the AFL as footy bosses attempted to make a definitive call on whether round one will go ahead amid the coronavirus crisis.
The AFL community held its breath for a decision to be made on Wednesday, with fans losing their patience as no announcement came before the evening.
The players have continually stated that they want the season to kick off this weekend, with club officials engaged in lengthy teleconferences to come up with a decision.
The delay has left Carlton and Richmond on tenterhooks ahead of Thursday night's scheduled season opener at the MCG.
Richmond coach Damien Hardwick said on Wednesday that his troops were raring for round one to get underway.
"We had a good (training) session today, we're planning for a good game versus Carlton and hopefully round one gets underway," Hardwick said.
"... We're looking forward to it and funnily enough I think the people of Australia are looking forward to it as well."
The AFL was set to make a call on the opening round earlier in the week but ever-shifting advice from relevant government and health authorities has made the task much more difficult.
The AFL CEO said on Monday that if one player or club official tests positive for the coronavirus then the league will instantly be put on hold for 14 days.
Several have been tested - most notably Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury - but as yet none have tested positive.
A growing number of players have also been sent away from their clubs and isolated from teammates as precautionary measures.
Looking beyond round one, the players, through their union, urged the AFL to backflip on its plan for a 17-round home-and-away season and move back to a standard schedule of 22 matches per club.
It has sparked accusations of greed, but players may be required to take a pay cut regardless of whether they play a shortened season as the competition braces for a significant revenue hit either way.
Tigers veteran hits back over accusations of greed
Richmond veteran Riewoldt engaged in a heated argument on Tuesday night with AFL 360 co-host Mark Robinson, who said the desire for the longer season was motivated purely over money.
“The players have pulled the wrong cord today. I think they're going to get little or no sympathy from the greater public a number of whom are losing their jobs, their livelihoods some are going to lose their houses,” AFL 360 co-host Mark Robinson said on Tuesday night.
“This decision by the players association, make no mistake, is all about money.
“They don't want to take a 20 per cent pay cut.
“Now that's their right to say we don't want to do that. They will take a pay cut, but what has happened now is we've got this massive war going on and the key stakeholders, the players, are now fighting with the AFL less than 48 hours out from the start of the season.”
But Richmond star Riewoldt firmly denied that theory, saying the players wanted to play for the love of the game.
“It doesn't help when you make claims pitting the players against the public in terms of saying all we want to do is play for money,” Riewoldt fired back at Robinson.
“The reason the players want to play is one for the love of the game. But we also understand there is a massive financial risks at stake at the moment.
“In the pure essence of the question do you want to play 22 games, of course we'd love to play 22 games.”