Wilkinson defends decision to play on in the face of COVID chaos

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Sydney FC captain Alex Wilkinson believes that ongoing match postponements is currently working and despite the rising numbers of COVID infections across the country, does not believe that the season should be cut short.

With case numbers nearing 100,000 in New South Wales, the rapid spread of the Omicron variant needs almost no introduction at this point.

Only recently joined by the Big Bash League, the A-League Men has proven to be one of the most affected professional sporting leagues in the country after rounds seven and eight alone saw five of its six originally scheduled fixtures postponed due to multiple positive cases across the competition.

Being no exception to the seemingly endless run of match postponements, Sydney FC’s FFA Cup quarter-final tie with Brisbane Roar on Wednesday night was the club’s first official match since Boxing Day, as a strong feeling of inevitability was attached to the recent disruption of the season.

“We’ve had a few boys in the team go down to COVID and I guess with the amount of case numbers that are popping up at the moment, it’s inevitable that we’re probably going to see a few more throughout the year,” Wilkinson said.

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A natural leader since joining the club in 2016, the former Socceroo also reflected on his pivotal role as captain at a time where multiple players in the Sky Blues camp had tested positive to the virus.

“I guess it’s just about making sure that for the guys who are in isolation that you’re touching base with them regularly, and making sure that they’re feeling alright both physically and mentally,” he said.

Despite lamenting the subsequent reduction of squad numbers over the past few weeks of training, Wilkinson held more of his concerns upon the aspect of player welfare.

“We probably still don’t know the effects of what COVID actually does in terms of physical performance and, you know, your capability to play football at a high level,” he said.

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But putting some of his reservations aside, the Sky Blues captain remained adamant that the right decision has been made in keeping the season going.

“There’s no point in canceling the season,” he said.

“By going through all the pay cuts and all the things we had to do a couple of years ago, I think the way that we’re managing it at the moment is the best way to do it.

“We’ve just got to make sure that when we do start making all the games up that it’s not, you know, a silly season.

“You obviously can’t be having teams playing every two or three days to try and make all the games up, because then the player welfare side sort of comes into it.

“But I think speaking on behalf of the players, I reckon they’d be more than happy doing it this way than obviously having a season cancelled or anything like that.”

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On Tuesday, Wilkinson’s fears of threatened player welfare became a likely reality, after Australian Professional Leagues CEO Danny Townsend revealed the possibility of a ‘magic round’ to finish the season in time for the June transfer window.

But with the Omicron variant yet to have reached its peak, the 37-year-old naturally compared the severity of the current situation to when the pandemic first began back in March 2020.

“All of a sudden I think we were playing the Wanderers the day before and then the next day the league shut down,” he said.

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“It was definitely a very uncertain time for all the players and we weren’t too sure if the league was going to start back up again at all, in terms of having a broadcast sponsor and you know, the type of revenue that they put into the game.

“But Danny Townsend and Scott Barlow were up front with us right from the get go and the communication level was was really good from them in keeping the playing group up to date with everything that was going on.

“Thankfully now we look back at it and we all got through it okay, and we’ve come out the other side with a new collective bargaining agreement, the new broadcast deal and new people with the APL running the game, so the future’s looking good.”

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Wilkinson can only hope that his optimism shines on to the rest of his Sky Blues teammates, as the club now proceeds to its league fixtures against Brisbane on Saturday and a battle for a spot in the FFA Cup final against Central Coast Mariners next Tuesday night.

Feature Image Credit: Jaime Castaneda

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Jimmy Alexander
Covering Sydney FC for the 2021/22 A-League season. Studying a Bachelor of Sports Media (Journalism) at Charles Sturt University.

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