Why FFA made the right call to play on

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Last week FFA made the bold decision to continue playing matches amid the COVID-19 outbreak, and while it was short-lived, it was the correct decision to continue playing at that point.

At the time of the decision no player, coach, or official had contracted the virus, as remains the case over a week later.

In making the decision, the newly established National COVID-19 Working Committee consulted with the Federal Government and the Chief Medical Officer, ultimately acting off their expert advice.

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As such, when FFA announced they were playing on, they did so with strict guidelines.

The government ban on outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people had already been brought into effect and the FFA matched this with their own rules around participant protocol, placing a strong emphasis on hygiene and behavioural expectations.

Secondly, the FFA also unveiled a plan to compress the season and limit travel.

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Matches were to be staged midweek, in an effort to wrap up the season within the prescribed timeframe.

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For example, Melbourne City played both of their remaining road games against Central Coast and Newcastle, meaning that they would not have had to travel again for the remainder of the regular season.

Furthermore, all clubs were going to be based out of only Sydney and Melbourne, accelerating the process of completing matches, while limiting travel and exposure to airports.

Another consideration for FFA was the financial future of the league. With play suspended, the clubs will come under significant financial pressure to stay afloat.

Even without a global pandemic, the financial stability of the league is circumspect, so the decision to keep playing was more so a means of survival than anything else.

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The A-League was only falling in line with the other major codes around Australia, both the NRL and AFL committed to playing matches last weekend, under the same restrictions as the A-League. Now all three have suspended operations.

Another consideration for the FFA was the desire from the clubs and players to continue playing.

The players have spent the last six months giving all they have to the competition, such that it was incumbent on the FFA to do everything they could to keep them out on the field.

Clubs were also on board with completing the season – Wellington Phoenix had relocated to Australia and were willing to spend a fortnight in quarantine alongside Melbourne Victory if it meant the competition could continue.

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Speaking of the players, imagine if FFA had suspended operations last week mere days out from the W-League Grand Final. It would have been a soul-crushing blow for the two clubs involved.

Another consideration was the national and perhaps global psyche of the general public. With so much upheaval occurring in people’s lives across the globe, the distraction that is the theatre of the sporting field had never been more valuable.

This extended to all those football fans overseas whose domestic competitions have been suspended for some time now.

The A-League and W-League had an opportunity to showcase themselves to the world. Perhaps this international exposure could have helped grow the game in terms of recruiting and sponsorship.

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Unfortunately, the decision to keep playing was taken out of FFA’s hands. The shutdown of state borders limited mobility to a point where attempting to stage matches would become too difficult.

Given this happened just a week after they decided to play on, some may say they were kidding themselves to begin with.

While this may be true, the fervour from FFA to keep the league alive and search for solutions ought to be commended.

The courage needed to make that decision last week will now be more important than ever as the league looks to salvage the remainder of the season.

The FFA will review the situation over the coming weeks with a formal status assessment now scheduled for April 22.

Feature Image Credit: Jaime Castaneda Sydney FC

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Michael Patane
Student at Monash University and lover of all things football covering Melbourne City in 2019/20.