Dylan Grimes leaves the ground against the West Coast Eagles at the MCG last season.
Dylan Grimes leaves the ground against the West Coast Eagles at the MCG last season.

Why a crammed fixture will grow virus risk

Cramming five games into three weeks could make players vulnerable to COVID-19 by tearing down their immune systems, and then compound their recoveries, according to high performance expert David Buttifant.

Buttifant also warned that footballers were more likely to suffer soft-tissue and knee injuries early in the season and that risk would rise under the AFL plan to stage 54 games in the next month.

 

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The AFL is committed to using the entire calendar to fit in a 17-round season and has looked at staging Rounds 2-6 in a three-week period to bank games before a shutdown.

Should a player contract COVID-19 during a heavy period of being overworked - which would also trigger a league shutdown for 14 days - Buttifant warned it could be tougher for the player to fight off the virus.

"If you load them up, they're going to become vulnerable. What would you rather, money or health?" he said.

"Their immune system will become more vulnerable if you increase that load. What does it do when it comes to the coronavirus?

"If they're under a lot of physical duress, because they don't (normally) play five games in three weeks, what are the risks associated with that?

"Gee, it would be tough, because, as we know, the first few games there's more susceptibility to injuries with the velocity of games and the firmness of the grounds.

"Having five games in three weeks, that's an increase in workload, and the susceptibility of further injuries would be heightened."

An exhausted player will be more vulnerable to the coronavirus and soft-tissue injuries.
An exhausted player will be more vulnerable to the coronavirus and soft-tissue injuries.

 

Buttifant, who served 13 of his 20 AFL seasons at Collingwood, called on the AFL to scrap the cap on interchange rotations if the exhaustive plan goes ahead.

But he said a total shutdown period following the extreme run of games would mitigate some of the risks, as players ease off their workloads.

"It's going to compromise wellbeing," Buttifant said. "First and foremost is the health and safety of your players, really. If you're going to compromise that then from an AFLPA point of view, what are they thinking?

"You'd think the priority is the wellbeing of players.

"If you're able to not put a cap on interchange, reduce game time and have a fifth player on the bench, they're all things that can really help minimise the physical load on the players," he said.


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