AFL Victoria will suspend the VFL competition today amid the coronavirus pandemic, sparking fears for the future of the league’s five remaining standalone clubs.
The expected decision, first reported by The Age, to postpone the season comes after Richmond and the Western Bulldogs opted to shut down their programs.
VFL teams had been taking part in practice matches as recently as Saturday, with the season proper scheduled to begin on April 3.
Coburg, Frankston, Port Melbourne, Werribee and Williamstown have forged on in the VFL as it has transformed into a rebooted AFL reserves competition.
Without banked cash or incoming gate receipts to underwrite their operations, it is unclear what the future holds for those five teams.
Frankston were resuscitated in 2018 after being kicked out of the VFL at the end of 2016 with mountains of debt.
Werribee chose to remain in the competition after splitting with the AFL’s North Melbourne at the end of 2017.
As it stands, other state-league competitions – the WAFL, SANFL and NEAFL – will go ahead as planned.
But Australia’s elite Under-18 competition, the Victorian-based NAB League, could be put on hold.
Postponing the VFL – or even cancelling it altogether – would have a series of knock-on effects, including helping to pave the way for state-league players to join AFL lists as top-up players if required.
However, even the AFL may yet be suspended if players refuse to take part in matches behind closed doors.
The AFLPA is set to speak to every player and every club today before a decision is made on its stance late on Monday or early on Tuesday.
– with Shayne Hope, AAP