A-League suspension looms as clubs race clock
SUSPENSION of the A-League appears inevitable, at least in the short term, after the government introduced strict new quarantine requirements on all arrivals in Australia from midnight Sunday in response to the coronavirus crisis.
With Wellington Phoenix hosting Melbourne Victory on Sunday afternoon, both teams look certain to be isolated for a fortnight once they fly into Australia - ruling out Wellington's games in Sydney on Wednesday and Newcastle on Sunday, as well as Victory's home game with Brisbane the same day.
The tight restrictions emulate those brought in by New Zealand, and A-League bosses had been hoping to relocate the Phoenix players and coaching staff to Sydney for several weeks as part of plans to complete the current season.
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But unless both teams are able to get on flights back to Sydney by the time of the curfew on Sunday night, it seems inevitable that the competition will be at least temporarily halted.
Club officials held a telephone hook-up on Sunday morning, with football's coronavirus working committee then trying to navigate a path through the chaos later on Sunday.
One of the plans under consideration would involve all games being played in one city with players confined to hotels.
But there is also acute awareness that if any players and coaches contract COVID-19 then the competition will have to be suspended, though there is a determination to at least try to play out the final rounds of the season and its finals.
Phoenix have admitted that staging any more home games is now impossible under the travel restrictions, and FFA staff have been working through the logistics of the whole club decamping to Sydney for the rest of the season.
That would be more palatable if all clubs moved to a centralised venue, though that remains a speculative option currently in a situation changing by the hour.
It would, though, give clubs more control over players, with officials admitting that outside of training grounds and matchday venues they are reliant on players remembering to follow strict protocols around interacting with as few people as possible.
At least one Sydney player was asked to take a selfie with fans after Saturday's 0-0 draw with Perth and agreed, illustrating the difficulty in staying isolated from potential sources of infection.
"We're pretty much in our own bubble at our training base, there's not too many people out there so in that sense it will be no problem," said Sydney FC boss Steve Corica.
"But when they go home, they're with their families and so on. We're just trying to keep them in the house as much as possible and not go out too much in this period."
The practicalities of playing in one city partly depend on how the other codes move, with the NRL and AFL also looking at similar options.
Those would likely be based in Sydney and Melbourne respectively, meaning Brisbane would become a logical venue for football.