Veteran football commentator Gerard Whateley has blasted the AFL and the NRL for their refusal to postpone competition as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic worsens.
Both major codes have vowed to go on in the face of the growing crisis, with ARLC chairman Peter V’landys saying the NRL was at risk of total collapse if games did not go ahead.
'SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE': Football rocked by coach's coronavirus death at 21
'GROWN MEN IN TEARS': Heartbreaking reality of NRL's virus dilemma
AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan announced on Monday that the season would be shortened from 23 games to 17, but that the season opening clash between Richmond and Carlton on Thursday night would still be going ahead as planned, albeit without spectators.
In a column penned for radio station SEN, Whateley slammed both leagues for putting their own financial considerations ahead of the health of the general population.
“It seems almost every sporting competition around the planet has come to a halt, but the AFL competition is going to spring to life,” Whateley wrote.
“It will be a shocking look, judged harshly initially and worse as time passes.
“How can it be that after we’ve been told to begin measures of social distancing that we’re forging ahead with plans to stage contact sport. It’s too much of a contradiction.”
AFL, NRL getting financial balancing act wrong, Gerard Whateley says
Whateley wrote in his column that he believed it was brutal financial considerations for both leagues that was motivating them to push ahead with games.
Whately posited that both codes had also misinterpreted the role they should play in wider society during such an uncertain time.
Raising the concept of the ‘economic imperative, health imperative and social imperative’ the leagues had, Whateley said the AFL was misinterpreting their social imperative by continuing with their 2020 season.
“Then there’s the social imperative. This is where I think sports administrators are confused,” he wrote.
“The social imperative isn’t to start now. Ask yourself this if the AFL starts on Thursday night… who is it for?
“The fans are already excluded. It will be done for the money.
“Not crassly but rather to ensure the game doesn’t collapse into a financial black hole, but it will still be about the money.”
Whateley urges calm, fans to wait for coronavirus crisis to pass
Despite being critical of the AFL and NRL’s response to the coronavirus crisis, Whateley was optimistic that if isolation and social distancing measure were properly adopted, both codes could at least play slightly shortened seasons.
The veteran caller said sporting codes had a role to play during the recovery from the crisis, rather than in the middle of it.
“Sport isn’t a distraction – that misunderstands how much a part of us it is – but it can be an escape.
“Sport can be a comfort. It represents normalcy in tumultuous times and it’s absolutely a unifier beyond compare, but it can’t be that just for now.”