THE country’s surging vaccination rates, coupled with the flexibility of a short-term conference system, underpin the confidence of A-League and W-League Commissioner Greg O’Rourke that a full season of football will unfold from late November and early December.
After the Australian Professional Leagues confirmed that the A-League season will start on November 19, and the W-League on December 3, O’Rourke revealed the modelling that has been used to allow the leagues to get underway in the midst of a pandemic.
For the first few weeks, until the end of the calendar year, both leagues will be based on a conference system – split between those clubs inside NSW, and the rest. The former will include both Wellington Phoenix teams, which will most likely be based in Wollongong until the Trans-Tasman bubble is reinstated.
More details about the design of the two competitions’ fixture lists beyond the turn of the year will be released nearer the time, but the national COVID-19 transition plan indicates that most if not all borders between states should have opened up by then.
Similarly, based on stated government re-opening plans, O’Rourke is also confident that crowds will be able to attend games from the start – with football aiming to be in the vanguard of staging events on the way out of lockdown.
“Our decision-making has as much as possible been anchored in the Federal Government’s four-stage roll-out for opening up, with increasing numbers of restrictions being relaxed as we hit 70% fully vaccinated, 80% and so on,” he said.
“That’s all publicly laid out, and we also have worked with our own contacts in various governments, and with the stadiums which are all own owned by the governments.
“Around six to eight weeks ago it became clear that we would need a conference system to navigate the first few weeks of the season, and we know that works because we successfully deployed it last season until the borders reopened.
“The dates we chose to start the seasons were driven by vaccination progress – by the time we kick off, most of the states should have 80% double vaccination rates or be very close, which on the basis of the national plan should see crowds start to return, borders become navigable and quarantine requirements mitigated.
“Of course we have contingency plans to deal with changing circumstances. But as things stand, having six teams based in NSW means they can play each other and so we can be confident that those games will go ahead.
“Meanwhile we have been able to schedule the bulk of games on the other side of the draw in Victoria, so then you are talking about almost the whole draw for the first few weeks not being dependent on the status of border openings.
“Putting players in hubs, or having to quarantine, has implications for player welfare and we’ve been able to minimise that based on the state governments’ various positions on reopening.
“Last season there were no vaccines and no safety net, and we staged a really successful season so as the country learns to live with COVID-19, I’m confident we will be able to do the same again.”
Download the draw for Rounds 1-4 of the W-League here