Rugby league had already circled the wagons when AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan fronted a media conference in Melbourne to declare his code was stopping the fight.
With dark circles under his eyes, as Hawthorn and Brisbane players were taking oranges at half-time at the MCG, McLachlan appeared on the verge of tears as he revealed the AFL juggernaut would grind to a halt by the end of the day and wouldn’t consider cranking up again until June.
The show must go on, says ARLC chairman Peter V’landys.Credit:Edwina Pickles
Privately, there’s an acknowledgement that it might be taken out of their hands, with federal and state authorities placing further restrictions on our day-to-day lives as we attempt to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nobody should underestimate the gravity of what’s on the line: sustaining the economic viability of a sport that feeds a lot of mouths, and not just overpaid footballers, balanced with the greater need to stop a killer virus from spreading like wildfire.
A few weeks ago, V’landys was on the verge of edging Greenberg out the door as a power struggle between the pair came to a head.
Now, they are shoulder to shoulder as they cling onto every last hope of the competition continuing, for at least another round, or at least until April 1 when the next quarterly payment from the broadcasters drops.
Interestingly, Greenberg has been forced into a passive role as V’landys takes a scattergun approach with his public comments.
On Sunday night, the chairman flagged players taking pay cuts — even though they had been mentioned just a week ago as a “last resort”. Even though the competition is still being played when almost every other sport has stopped.
The public statements are confusing.
In the past week a whole range of spooky scenarios have been painted, from the competition running out of money in three months, then six weeks, then maybe even less than that.
The game had $145 million in the coffers, then it was $70 million, then even less than that.
Make no mistake: V’landys is the right man to have in rugby league’s corner right now. Heaven forbid his predecessors, Peter Beattie and John Grant, were at the helm in the time of such crisis.
But in aggressively playing on in the manner he is, he risks disenfranchising a whole stack of supporters who have more to lose than something to watch in their leisure time.
McLachlan struck the right tone on Sunday afternoon.
“Like every organisation in the country, we have to do everything that needs to be done to help slow the spread of this virus,” he said. “As a national code, we have responsibilities to consider the well-being of the nation.”
Rugby league looks like it’s putting rugby league first, the nation second, and even the most ardent supporter understands that is not right.
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