Did the A-League really need to put itself through this corona wringer?


As the A-League's 11 clubs sharpen their skills in preparation for the final act of the competition, there is huge uncertainty over how or if this fragmented season will come to an end.

The complicated lead-in to next week's resumption of the tournament has hit another major hurdle when it was announced that the border between Victoria and NSW will be closed at midnight on Tuesday.

Melbourne Victory, Melbourne City and Western United at short notice were forced into a rush to get to Sydney to be able to complete their season in NSW.

Reports are emerging of the Victory, City and United squads being turned back at the airport late on Monday night after the clubs tried to fly to Sydney via Canberra.

This is bordering on the ridiculous and at this point the question again needs to be asked if the decision not to terminate the season was worth all the uncertainty and trouble COVID-19 is causing.

And is it a case of football paying the price for the Victorian government's controversial handling of the coronavirus crisis that could spiral out of control?

Football Federation Australia had brought the competition to a halt in late March as a result of the epidemic that became a pandemic in a very short time and disrupted world sport.

As anxious clubs, coaches, players, fans and the media wondered if the truncated A-League season would actually be completed, the governing body declared almost three weeks ago that they had struck a deal with broadcaster Fox Sports and the clubs for the competition to resume in a five-week format kicking off on 16 July.

The competition was to be played out in Sydney, Newcastle, Gosford, Brisbane and Melbourne but now that the border with Victoria-NSW will be shut indefinitely, the remaining A-League fixtures reportedly will take place entirely in NSW for logistical reasons.

It will not be a competition as we know it. The 27 games in the premiership plus the five finals will be played mostly behind closed doors and all teams will be allowed five substitutions to compensate for the quick turnaround of matches. There will be no VAR.

Several foreign stars, among them Perth Glory's Diego Castro and Victory's Ola Toivonen, have left Australia while the Professional Footballers Australia union has expressed concern over the players' safety.

With the competition so heavily compromised you wonder if the league should have pulled up stumps in March, declared runaway leaders Sydney FC the premiers, voided the championship title and got on with the job of preparing for next season that will kick off in December and end in July.

The reason this did not happen was the bottom line, of course.

The FFA were contractually obliged to provide content for a revised 12-month deal with Fox that is understood to be worth about $32 million.

Was it not practical or logical for the governing body, the clubs and the broadcaster to terminate the current season instead of prolonging the uncertainty and settle on, say, a nine-month arrangement instead of the longer deal lasting a whole year?

That would have reduced Fox's backing by a fourth ... so the FFA would have got about $24 million instead of $32.

It is the kind of money the FFA could not afford to lose but on the other hand they would have saved a small fortune by not having to fly the interstate teams to Sydney and put them up in hotels for six whole weeks or more.

FFA would argue that the first border closure between the two states in 100 years was unforeseen but the reality is that this killer virus has been unpredictable from day one and the return to normal life was always going to be impossible, especially if a second wave were to come.

It seems that FFA, in their drive to finish off the season, did not have adequate contingency plans for such an eventuality even though they would be right to complain about Victoria's management of the crisis that has been heavily criticised.

In any case, I believe football's governing body, its clubs and the broadcaster could have worked on a better compromise and put the 2019-20 season to bed.

And in doing so FFA would have spared us the hardly uplifting spectacle of five weeks of football mostly behind closed doors to finish off a season that will always be accompanied by an asterisk, anyway.