The A-League has generally operated on a different calendar to its European counterparts due to the difference in seasons between the Northern and Southern hemispheres, and this had never really been a problem. However, with the world on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and this includes football, there may now be a need to shift the Australian football calendar, since at present, it could go completely out of sync with international commitments.
At present, the 2019/20 A-League season is due to resume in August and finish a month later. However, this has put a question mark against the start of the next season. Can the 2020/21 season begin as it has since 2005, during the Australian summer, and finish in May, with the footballers only getting a month-long break? Or will the authorities take this opportunity to permanently shift the calendar, and move to a March-to-November schedule? There are a number of reasons why doing so is in the best interests of Australian football –
First of all, it would allow fans, players and everyone else connected with the game some respite from the heat. Australian summers can be brutal, with temperatures regularly crossing 40 degrees Celsius across the country, and hosting matches in those conditions can be painful for everyone concerned. There was an example of this earlier this year, when Newcastle Jets played Western United in February on a day where temperatures soared to 46 degrees, a game where betting sites Nigeria had predicted a draw. That is, frankly put, not safe for the players, and with there being so much noise and concern around the 2022 Qatar World Cup for the same reasons (and others, but that’s not the point here), it would be foolish for the A-League to continue putting its players’ health in jeopardy.
This would also allow for there to be more specialized and focused media coverage on football. The majority of Australian sports are played during the summer, with cricket, tennis, basketball and the other football codes all taking up airwaves and column inches during this time. Moving to a winter schedule would improve the ability of the league to market itself by leaps and bounds.
Another curiosity of the Australian football calendar is that the entire football structure, or pyramid, is not aligned. The second-division NPL plays its matches on a different schedule, and so a team getting promoted to the A-League had to play in the top-flight within a month of its own second-division campaign concluding, or wait a whole year. That makes no sense, and whether there is a completely new second division launched, or the NPL continues to exist, it would just make footballing sense for the two divisions to be aligned in terms of their schedule.
Another impact has been on the performance of clubs in the AFC Champions League. With the A-League season ending in May, Australian clubs end up playing in the group stages of the Champions League during the off-season, making them significantly disadvantaged against their continental rivals. Further, there’s a lag of a year in participation, with A-League winners having to wait till the following year to play in the group stages. A March-November calendar shift would allow Australian clubs to prepare for the group stages during pre-season, and therefore arrive for the knockout stages during the campaign as well, ensuring that they are properly prepared tactically and physically.
These are just some of the benefits of changing up the Australian football calendar – there are many more, and one can only hope that the authorities can see these benefits too and that they take this chance, offered up by the current shutdown, to move the calendar for good.