More layoffs for Australian sport amid coronavirus shutdown


MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia’s soccer federation laid off most of its staff on Friday as domestic sports battled to stay afloat during the national lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

A round of layoffs also hit domestic cricket while the National Rugby League (NRL), the country’s most popular sporting competition in the eastern states, scrapped a slew of national and state tournaments.

Football Federation Australia (FFA), three days after suspending the top-flight A-League indefinitely, said it had let go 70% of its staff in a bid to keep the embattled code afloat.

“This has been an extremely difficult decision to make, but necessary to stabilize the organization so that it can continue to service the game, albeit in a vastly different landscape,” FFA Chief Executive James Johnson said.

“Industries all over the world have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and football in Australia is no different.”

International matches for Australia’s national teams have also been suspended indefinitely, along with all grass-roots and community soccer.

The number of coronavirus cases in Australia now exceeds 3,000 after posting less than 100 in early March, with 13 people having died from the virus.

Globally, over 24,000 have died from the virus, according to a Reuters tally.

The A-League was the last of Australia’s major sports competitions to shut down, with the Australian Football League (AFL), NRL and Super Rugby having already been suspended.

The AFL season’s suspension on Sunday after only one round of championship matches has had a knock-on effect for Australian cricket, even though it is in its off-season.

The South Australian Cricket Association (SACA) has laid off 16 staff and seven contractors, including the general manager of the Adelaide Strikers, a professional team in the country’s domestic Twenty20 competition.

SACA, which is a co-partner of the AFL in a joint venture running the Adelaide Oval, said it was forced to cut costs due to the anticipated loss of revenue at the multi-purpose stadium which would normally be hosting AFL games.

“The focus of these measures is to ensure that we can continue to operate and that we can get back to our role of providing cricket programs and matches across South Australia when conditions improve,” SACA said in a statement.

Staff cuts have already hit a number of AFL and NRL clubs, which have no product to sell or revenue coming in.

The NRL canceled national women’s and schoolboys’ competitions, while Queensland and New South Wales scrapped state-level tournaments.

“I know this will be a disappointing outcome for those involved in these competitions right across Australia, but the health and safety of those involved with rugby league must always come first,” the NRL’s Head of Football Luke Ellis said in a statement.

Tense pay-cut negotiations between players and AFL and NRL executives have dragged on.

The players in both codes stand to lose most of their income, with local media reporting the NRL’s playing group are set to be hit with an 87% pay cut for the duration of the shutdown.

Editing by Peter Rutherford