Despite the existence of a desperate desire to see training resume for footballers across New South Wales, such a move may do more damage that good.
As of 12.00am Friday the 22nd of May, COVID-19 induced restrictions were eased and clubs began informing their members of the intended timeline for a potential return to full training in the coming weeks. Currently, all training must be undertaken in line with the Public Health Order issued by the New South Wales State Government.
That order has informed the Return to Training Guidelines issued by Football New South Wales. Those documents outline the overarching goal of allowing football training to recommence whilst also ensuring safe and positive conditions for all players, coaches and officials.
More specifically, a set of clear guidelines have been constructed in order to ensure that safety. At each session there is a requirement to:
- have gatherings of no more than 10 people at any time.
- have appropriate social distancing of at least 1.5m between people at all times.
- allow for at least 4m2 for all participants at all times.
- maintain reasonable levels of hygiene to minimise the risk of infection.
Should all go well, the intention is for game simulation, contested ball and social activity before and after the sessions to once again be permitted in the near future.
It has been a bold undertaking and one that required a set of somewhat strict measures to even be approved at a government level. However, with drill based sessions a far cry from a return to trial matches and eventual competitive play, any conviction that football is officially back in New South Wales and not threatened by COVID-19, is far from convincing.
Whilst it will be heartening to see young kids back on the pitch and enjoying the beautiful game, the ramifications of a return to play in Australia’s semi-professional landscape are challenging and potentially crippling.
The governing body in New South Wales has been categorical in its current position, “all football activities are suspended through to 31 May 2020 and no decision has been made in relation to Football NSW’s NPL Competitions for the 2020 season.” No doubt, with players now gradually returning to limited training, a statement of intention in regards to what happens post May 31, will surely be looming in coming days.
Should competition recommencement be the crux of that statement, clubs will potentially be placed in a precarious and life threatening position. As is the case with their Victorian counterparts, a number of NPL clubs have already approached Football NSW expressing a desire to cancel the season.
Sponsors have been lost, the doors of once profitable social clubs have remained pad locked for over two months and many clubs seem unlikely to be able to meet their wage bill for 2020. Throw in a potential return to play without spectators, where the clubs may in fact be forced to trade even deeper into the red.
The costs of venue hire would remain, payments for officials and security requirements may potentially be lessened but still in existence and revenue from gate takings and food/beverage sales would be zero. Thus, NPL clubs across New South Wales may well be asked to operate at a substantial loss should their federation demand a return to play.
Should a positive Coronavirus test cause a second shut down of the season, it will have all been for nothing. The best laid plans could be torpedoed in an instant; leaving clubs lamenting the recommencement and knowing things had actually worsened thanks to their return to the field. The shutting down of Waverley College, an Eastern Suburbs private school, on May 26th displayed just how fraught with risk a return to any organised activity where increased social contact occurs actually is.
New South Wales’ students had only returned to school in a full-time capacity the day prior and despite all best intentions to have children back in a safe and comfortable environment, for Waverley College, the recommencement of classes was a sheer waste of, and a potentially dangerous, time.
Football New South Wales needs to consider such realities when contemplating a recommencement of play. As keen as I am to have Blacktown City challenging for the NPL1 title, doing so whilst clubs continue to lose money and have their long term existence threatened may well be enough to sway its decision towards conceding defeat to COVID-19.
It would be a sad decision for football, yet one that may well need to be made.