Opinion

Australian football will never get a better chance to be united

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After much deliberation and soul-searching, Football Federation Australia has put the A-League out of its coronavirus misery and brought the competition to a halt. That was the easy bit... the hard work starts now.

Head office did its very best to save the competition from the ravages of COVID-19 that has rocked the world and virtually brought it to a standstill.

FFA tried to keep the A-League going to maintain its regularity and appease broadcaster Fox Sports by staging matches behind closed doors but in the end its stoicism or expediency had to give way to a 'force majeure' and the governing body was forced to blow full time and postpone the rest of the competition indefinitely.

Chief executive James Johnson said the FFA will review the virus situation on April 22, presumably to give the A-League a chance to complete the season by the time most player contracts end on May 31.

It is not known at this stage if football will lose a portion of the $56m Fox pays every year for the privilege of showing the A-League.

"That's a discussion we have to have with Fox," Johnson said.

It is unfortunate that the A-League has come to this but the decision was inevitable and it was the right thing to do by all stakeholders.

A hiatus of two, four or six months is the last thing our cash-strapped game needs, yet every cloud has a silver lining, they say.

The FFA has been presented with a golden opportunity to undertake a holistic reassessment of the state of the game in Australia without the 'distraction' of a league competition or the demands of the Socceroos, Matildas and Olyroos whose imminent international commitments are now on hold.

"We need to talk about how we can do things better and if this provides us with an opportunity to do that we should take advantage of it," Johnson said.

One of our game's biggest problems, despite what we are told, is that the stakeholders are not rowing in the same direction.

This is nothing new in the dog-eat-dog world of professional sport but Australian football is particularly vulnerable because it is not strong enough to withstand a lack of unity.

The pandemic that has stopped the world's biggest and most popular leagues will play havoc with our lesser game at every level and it will test our resolve to bounce back, so unity of purpose has never been more important than it is at this moment.

Being floored by a big hit is not the end of the world ... what's more important is being able to get back on your feet and fight back.

Make no mistake, if we want to insulate our game and survive this crisis we need to pull together and acknowledge football's weakness and vulnerability and put in place appropriate protective measures. When big football countries catch a cold, we get bronchitis.

COVID-19 will be a massive test of our will and strength as a sport and a bold collective effort will have to be made by one and all if we are to emerge unscathed from this sinister crisis.

The FFA, the A-League and semi-pro clubs, the coaches, players, agents, supporters, broadcasters and sponsors have no choice and must make sacrifices if they are to transform today's pain into tomorrow's gain.

Most supporters are more than justified in hoping this storm will blow over.

As Johnson said, Australian football has a history of resilience and has survived the Spanish Flu and the Global Financial Crisis and should be strong enough to withstand the latest threat to its existence.

But we cannot afford to be blasé about it - believing that 'we are great survivors and we'll be right' - because what we face now is a huge challenge.