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COVID-19 state restrictions begin gentle ease - what does this mean for City?

With the announcement from Victorian state Premier Daniel Andrews that professional sport teams can begin training as of 11:59pm on Tuesday 12th May, along with restrictions being gradually eased across Australia, the move towards resumption of play has begun with caution.

Following on from Premier Andrews’ press conference this morning, Melbourne City will be allowed to begin team training on Wednesday morning in groups, a step up from the home-based exercise programs they have been doing during the period of Stage 3 restrictions in Victoria that begun on March 31.

Rumours have circled that the league is planning an August restart, with a period of 3-4 weeks pre-season mandated to minimise injuries, before completing the remaining 5 rounds of the season and finals series.

Curiously, if training were to recommence on Wednesday May 13th, the league could theoretically restart on Wednesday June 10th, however there are a number of logistical issues that would need to be overcome first.

Firstly, the Wellington Phoenix players are still in New Zealand and would be required to complete a government mandated 14 day isolation period in a hotel prior to being allowed to train as a group, assuming that none of the players displayed symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19 in this time. Assuming, then, that all the players were placed on a plane today, nothing went wrong in isolation and they began training in a week, we could see a restart to the season on June 24th. The likelihood of this happening in such a short time frame, however, is slim.

Secondly, the majority of clubs have players on the JobKeeper payment whilst awaiting the return of play. The primary reason behind this appeared to be that Fox Sports was delaying payment of the $12 million quarterly contract fee, but with that now resolved, normal payments could possibly resume. The clubs that didn’t place players on JobKeeper, City included, have allowed players to be on annual leave during this period, so would be expected to return to normal duty as soon as the schedule requires.

Thirdly, a significant number of A-League players will be finishing their contracts on May 31st. In a previous article we mentioned that 8 senior players for City are off contract on this date, including new short term signing Markel Susaeta, centre backs Harrison Delbridge and Rostyn Griffiths, young stars Nathaniel Atkinson and Denis Genreau, maligned marquee Florin Berengeur and the troubled duo of Dean Bouzanis and Lachie Wales. Some of these players may have signed contracts at other clubs to begin on June 1st, so the league will need to clarify the state of player contracts before the resumption of play.

Whilst guidance from FIFA has approved extending these contracts until the end of the season, no formal agreement from the FFA and PFA has been announced to confirm such measures. That the CBA was also due to be renegotiated in this period only adds to the murkiness in this time period, however a Talking City interview with PFA CEO John Didulica spoke about common sense needing to prevail in a difficult time, and potentially extending the current CBA for a year to allow discussion to take place once the coronavirus era passes.

Fourthly, a similarly to the issue with the Wellington Phoenix players, some VISA players for each A-League club have been allowed to return overseas while play isn’t continuing. We understand that City is in a reasonably favourable position as only one player is overseas.

The added bonus for squad depth is that injured VISA star Jack Hendry, who underwent surgery on an MCL rupture on February, is likely to be near to a return from injury after an expected three month recovery period. Alternatively, our other VISA centreback, Richard Windbichler, may be nearing a recovery from a number of soft tissue injuries, allowing him back in the squad and finishing Hendry’s injury replacement contract. The status of both VISA players is yet to be confirmed by the club.

Lastly, the discussion of a “hub” format for the A-League appears to not yet be finalised. Word in the football media is that clubs have been told to prepare for a Sydney based hub, which is not unreasonable given four of the eleven clubs are based in New South Wales and eight of the eleven are based on the eastern seaboard of Australia, specifics of training pitches, access to sports medicine, housing situations and transport will need to be finalised.

We expect to hear news out of FFA headquarters in the coming week or so regarding the league’s plans for resumption, the last of which mentioning that the process of restarting training likely wouldn’t happen before the end of May.

At the end of the day, the most important part of discussion easing of restrictions and returning to professional sport is simple: safety.

The most concerning situation facing Australians, after a period of isolation where we have successfully flattened the curve and become the envy of the world in terms of how severe the hit of COVID-19 has been, is the possibility of moving too quickly to resume life and being hit by a second wave of cases. We’ve seen it in Singapore and concerns have already been raised in South Korea after a rise in new cases following easing of restrictions.

We all want to see sport again. We all want the coronavirus period to end. We all want to return to hugging and kissing family members, jumping in the terrace after scoring and resuming life as we previously knew it.

But the most important thing is that we as individuals, and professional sporting bodies as a whole, do things with safety at the forefront of all decisions.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800-020-080.

The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

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