The A-Leagues need a COVID bubble

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Ladies and gentlemen, players and staff. All aboard the bubble express to the A-Leagues survival.

It’s the third year of COVID and it’s still finding ways to trouble Australian sport. The movements of the virus around the A-Leagues maintains a threat to the competitions, questioning whether a ‘bubble’ approach is required.

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Sports across the globe have endeavoured into this ‘bubble’ route with much success, like the NBA. Walt Disney World in Orlando housed teams and staff for the season’s remainder. The 2020/21 season ended without a single player, coach or staff member testing positive for Covid.

This was props to the NBA’s aggressive protocols in the bubble including regular testing, wearing masks and social distancing. Individuals were provided proximity alarms to detect individuals breaking social distancing rules, and rings to detect any change in one’s physiological state (heart rate and body temperature). Wristbands were also provided for facility entry.

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The NRL followed suit with all 18 teams residing in Queensland at the backend of their 2021 season. Measures including social distancing, masks, and testing were vigorously imposed, with balls constantly sanitised throughout the match.

The season ended in fashion with Queensland hosting the first grand final outside of New South Wales and recording minimal incidents.

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COVID outbreaks continue to cause regular fixture postponements and more may fall this way.

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL) recently announced new protocols for clubs experiencing outbreaks. Specifically, teams with five or more positive cases can postpone games though can play on if chosen.

The APL has no plans to postpone entire rounds, attempting to dismiss chances of another extended season and to miss clashing with the Under-23’s Men’s Asian Cup in June.

Postponed fixtures will now be played mid-week and during FIFA international windows.

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However, game postponements may become too overwhelming as cases rise.

For instance, Melbourne City coach Patrick Kisnorbo recently stated all but five of his players tested positive for COVID. Kisnorbo was unsure how many players he could field for City’s FFA Cup quarter-final loss to Wellington Phoenix on Wednesday night.

Hardest hit is Perth Glory. Glory has isolated for two weeks with four of their games already postponed. Their fight to rise up the ladder has become an even bigger challenge.

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Player welfare is of great importance to the A-Leagues and this latest COVID strain is now posing new headaches.

Taking a few weeks off to consolidate a bubble plan may inevitably cause clashes at season’s end. However, it will decline the probability of players and staff being put at future risk of the virus.

It’s time for the A-Leagues to act now. Though only early days, there is still plenty of time to get this plan right and possibly do it better than their predecessors.

Feature Image Credit: Jordan Trombetta

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Mitchell Roese
Sports enthuse currently studying a Bachelor of Communications (Journalism) at the University of Technology Sydney. Covering the Central Coast Mariners 2021/22 A-League Season

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