Soccer

Australia's A-League halted as travel restrictions increase

AP, AFP-JIJI

Australian soccer’s A-League has suspended its season indefinitely, bringing an end to all professional football competitions in Australia and New Zealand until the COVID-19 pandemic passes.

Football Federation Australia chief executive James Johnson announced the decision Tuesday, saying the latest measures imposed by the federal government made it impossible for the A-League to continue. The league had only a few regular-season rounds remaining before the playoffs. Johnson said the postponement will be reviewed on April 22.

“As a national competition played in all parts of Australia, as well as New Zealand, mission complicated became mission impossible,” Johnson said.

Newcastle’s 2-1 win over Melbourne City at an empty stadium on Monday night was the last game completed. Sydney FC led the standings with 48 points after 20 games, eight points ahead of Melbourne City, which has played 23 games. Wellington Phoenix were in third place with 36 points from 20 games.

Johnson remained optimistic the season could resume but said the postponement was “heartbreaking.” All soccer in Australia from the community to professional levels has now been halted.

“To get so close to completing the competition, only to pull up a few weeks short, has been heartbreaking for the players, clubs and fans,” said Johnson.

“That said, the health and safety of our fans, players, volunteers and staff has always been the overriding consideration for us.”

The decision allows the Wellington Phoenix players and coaching staff to return home before New Zealand goes into lock down.

Players and staff from the New Zealand-based club have spent more than a week in quarantine at a Sydney hotel in a bid to complete the season after each country imposed mandatory 14-day isolation for all arriving travelers.

Johnson said he had “no regrets” about the decision to bring the Phoenix to Australia.

The Super Rugby competition, which involves clubs from five countries, suspended its season last week and attempts in Australia and New Zealand to create domestic competitions for their teams have been put on hold.

Australian rules’ Australian Football League suspended its season Sunday after only one round. The National Rugby League followed suit on Monday after two rounds. In each case, government restrictions on national and international travel, public gatherings and non-essential activities made continuing untenable.

Johnson insisted that Australian soccer would survive, in contrast to doom-and-gloom predictions that the NRL is facing a fight for its life.

“We will feel this,” Johnson said. “We will feel the financial pressure on the game at all levels. The game will survive. Will we need to make changes, be different? I say yes.”

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