MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia’s A-League was suspended indefinitely due to the coronavirus on Tuesday, with administrators saying travel curbs to contain the outbreak had made it untenable for the country’s top-flight soccer competition to continue.
Governing body Football Federation Australia (FFA) said its board and the clubs had unanimously decided to call the season off late on Monday, with most Australian states having already banned travellers from other parts of the country.
“The decision which was taken last night, announced this morning, was a result of the increased state and national requirements now, in particular the border controls that the states have implemented and also New Zealand,” FFA boss James Johnson told a media conference in Sydney on Tuesday.
Six rounds of regular season matches needed to be completed before the playoffs that were originally set to start in May, but the A-League is now frozen with no timetable for resumption, barring a “status assessment” set for April 22, when administrators will review the virus situation.
Needing broadcast revenues to prop up the competition, the FFA battled to keep the season alive, even securing agreement from the A-League’s one New Zealand team, the Wellington Phoenix, to base themselves in Australia to avoid quarantine restrictions in their home country.
But Australia’s national shutdown in recent days has finally forced the FFA’s hand.
“As a national competition, a competition that’s played in almost all parts of Australia and also played in New Zealand, mission complicated became mission impossible,” said Johnson.
Australia has now suspended all major sports competitions, with Australian Rules football, the National Rugby League and Super Rugby calling off their seasons in recent days.
As with the other leagues, Australian soccer is now left in a perilous financial position, unable to generate revenues to support clubs in the 11-team A-League and guarantee player payments.
Most A-League clubs have run at a loss for years, and Johnson declined to guarantee that all would survive the crisis or that Sydney-based expansion side Macarthur FC would be able to join the competition for the next 2020/21 season.
International fixtures for the men’s and women’s national teams have also been disrupted by the virus, robbing the FFA of another revenue stream.
Johnson said the game was resilient enough to survive but difficult decisions would be made in coming days.
“We will feel the financial pressure on the game at all levels,” he said. “FFA will feel this, the clubs will feel this, the players will feel this.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Himani Sarkar