Federal sports minister Richard Colbeck says the AFL season will be able to resume without quarantine hubs if COVID-19 cases continue to decline.
There is growing optimism that the 2020 competition – which was put on hold in March after just one round – could resume by the end of June.
The AFL’s “doomsday” hubs scenario has not been received well by players, who have baulked at the prospect of up to 20 weeks locked away from loved ones. But Colbeck has given the best indication yet that games will recommence in a more traditional home-and-away format.
“Things have changed a little bit since the early days of the discussions of the hubs. We’ve almost moved past that model now,” he told SEN.
“If we continue the trajectory we’re on and maintain the discipline that we have as a community I think that is quite conceivable (games will be played without hubs).
“You saw Queensland last week make a very quick decision to allow (NRL) teams to come in under a structured method of transport.”
It comes as the majority of AFL clubs are calling players back from interstate breaks in readiness for a possible season restart.
Western Bulldogs president Peter Gordon said his club had stressed to its players to make their way back to Melbourne.
“There’s certainly, across the industry, the suggestion that we should get organised,” Gordon told SEN Breakfast on Monday.
“That’s true for the Bulldogs’ interstate players as much as anyone else’s.”
Brisbane and Gold Coast have told their players to head back to Queensland after the state government last Friday eased COVID-19 restrictions. North Melbourne’s interstate contingent will return to Victoria this week and Hawthorn have called back their relatively small group.
Carlton are set to deliver instructions to their playing group on Monday.
West Coast, Fremantle, Adelaide and Port Adelaide face possible disadvantages because of Western Australia and South Australia’s tighter interstate travel controls, with concerns that returning players might have to spend 14 days in quarantine.
As clubs eagerly await an official restart date, Gordon backed the AFL’s decision to limit all clubs to training in groups of two for the time being. It follows consternation from some clubs based outside Victoria, including Port Adelaide’s Tom Rockliff accusing the AFL of bias toward the Victorian clubs.
The two WA clubs had been hopeful of training in larger groups after the state government last week lifted the local limit on outdoor gatherings to 10 people. Clubs in South Australia and Queensland are operating under similar local rulings.
But the AFL stepped in to ensure the 10 Victorian clubs were not disadvantaged by different restrictions in different states.
Clubs are hopeful that further easing of government restrictions could allow them all to train in groups of six to 10 players next week.