The make-up of the AFL fixture, and in turn the fate of the 2020 season, could lie partly in the hands of the Tasmanian Government and its public health officials.
Tasmania is looming as the next port in a COVID-19 storm for the AFL, which is desperate to avoid the virus and base its clubs in states with low numbers of cases.
The AFL has scheduled North Melbourne to play two games in Tasmania in Rounds 11 and 12, from August 9.
But whether or not those fixtures go ahead depends on the Government’s willingness to ease tough border restrictions, less than a week after confirmation of its first case of COVID-19 in 65 days.
The AFL will be sweating on an announcement due to be made on Friday on whether Tasmania will extend its border closure or open its doors to visitors from select jurisdictions.
The states borders are closed until at least July 31, and could remain closed for longer.
Currently, any visitor to Tasmania must quarantine in a Government-approved hotel for 14 days.
The Public Health guidelines for non-Tasmanian residents who have “spent time in high-risk areas” — which includes people who have spent time in Victoria in the 14 days prior to arriving in Tasmania — is that they will be “turned back at their own expense”.
So far, Premier Peter Gutwein has had little desire to allow AFL matches to be played in Tasmania, citing a lack of benefit to the state.
On Monday, Mr Gutwein stated that special exemptions would not be granted to football clubs hoping to play games in Tasmania, and that despite reports to the contrary, no agreement to host games in the state had been made.
For perhaps the first time, Tasmania has the whip hand in a stand-off with the Australian Football League.
With coronavirus situations in Victoria and New South Wales worsening, the AFL is fast running out of places to base its teams and the island of Tasmania presents itself as a coronavirus-free oasis.
Its willingness to schedule games in Tasmania — without knowing for sure whether or not they’ll be able to be played — indicates its desperation to send teams south.
The AFL is banking on Tasmania doing it a huge favour.
A Tasmanian footy hub would gift the state a small but needed economic bump, but it will also be a huge leg-up to a league that is desperately seeking safe harbour — and has constantly shunned a traditional haven of the game.
The AFL for the first time now needs Tasmania more than the Apple Isle needs it, and Premier Gutwein mustn’t burn a golden chance to use his newly found leverage when the time comes for the AFL to repay the favour.