Sydney: Australia's hugely popular Aussie Rules suspended its season Sunday in what it called "the most serious threat to our game in 100 years", but rugby league vowed to play on despite tough new restrictions to contain the coronavirus.
The bombshell move by the Australian Football League (AFL) after just one match of the season, played in empty stadiums this weekend, was unprecedented for a sport that first established a league in 1896.
"To say this is the most serious threat to our game in 100 years is an understatement," chief executive Gillon McLachlan said, with lucrative broadcast commitments at stake.
"It is unprecedented in its impact. It is unprecedented in the impact it is having on our game and the wider community. As a community and as a code, we all need to take the unprecedented and required actions to get through this together."
A dynamic game similar to Ireland's Gaelic football, Australian Rules is the country's biggest spectator sport with 100,014 fans cramming the Melbourne Cricket Ground for its Grand Final last year, won by Richmond.
But there will be no more action until at least May 31 after Prime Minister Scott Morrison recommended against all "non-essential" domestic travel.
Australia had already sealed off its borders to non-residents, with more than 1,300 cases and seven deaths from COVID-19.
Further complicating matters, the states of New South Wales and Victoria plan a shutdown of non-key services over the next 48 hours.
Other states, including South Australia, have, or plan to, close their borders, imposing a compulsory 14-day self-isolation period on anyone entering.
A BIT DIFFERENT
Rugby league and football have also been playing without spectators this week, among the few sporting competitions in the world still in action.
Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V'landys told Sydney's Daily Telegraph his sport would not follow the AFL's lead unless forced to, insisting they were better placed logistically.
While the AFL has 18 teams based across five states, rugby league is primarily centred on New South Wales and Queensland.
"It is much harder for the AFL, to be fair to them, because they have got teams in Queensland, NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia," said V'landys, who has previously warned suspending the season could financially destroy the game.
"So all these travel restrictions are certainly going to affect them.
"We are a little bit different. If the health authorities allow it we will be still playing."
Political leaders were set to meet Sunday evening to consider even stricter isolation rules and Football Federation Australia (FFA) said it would await the outcome before making any decisions.
"We remain under no illusions as to how fluid this situation is so we will remain agile and responsive to the challenges this pandemic brings," FFA chief James Johnson said.
McLachlan said the AFL would revisit their decision at the end of April and decide whether to extend the lockout. All club training was put on hold.
But he remained confident that all 144 games could be played in an extended season.
"We are prepared to run as late as possible in 2020 to complete the season if it was required," he said.
In announcing the new travel restrictions Sunday, Morrison suggested the National Rugby League and AFL could play on.
"I am sure we can work with both of them (NRL and AFL), with their respective state and medical chief officers at a federal level," he said.
"If there are new arrangements that need to be put in place to protect the health and safety of everyone, that may be possible."