AFL backs down on plan for extra bye

The AFL have rejected a player push for two byes per club next season, despite previous enthusiasm for the idea.

The AFL Players’ Association (AFLPA) had requested the extra week’s break for players, out of concern the game’s increasing physical demands are taking a toll in fatigue and soreness.

But after AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou in June expressed his strong support for change, the league on Friday announced they would again be having just one bye.

The decision has upset the AFLPA, with chief executive Matt Finnis saying player welfare should have been the top priority.

“The captains were really clear on this principle when they met with the AFL commissioners earlier this year,” Finnis said.

“As recently as the past few weeks, we’d been hopeful that the players’ calls for two byes would be implemented for the 2013 season.

“Naturally, we expect the players to be concerned at today’s developments.”

The AFL cited venue unavailability as the sticking point, as extending the season by a week to include an extra bye would stretch it into dates when cricket has contractual rights to stadiums such as the MCG.

Asked in June about the possibility of adding an extra bye, Demetriou said: “Absolutely we support it.”

He said they could start their season a week earlier despite meaning they would lose the MCG for opening-round blockbusters.

“Make no mistake – we’re going to be opening the season at Etihad Stadium,” Demetriou said at the time.

But, with Demetriou on a six-week overseas trip which takes in the London Olympics, the AFL’s general manager of broadcasting, scheduling and legal affairs Simon Lethlean announced the league’s change of heart in a statement late on Friday.

He said the main reason was that the SCG, the MCG and the Gabba would be unavailable earlier in the year and it would disrupt the fixture too much to start the season without those venues.

But the AFL would continue to work to gain earlier access to those venues to eventually enable two byes, Lethlean said.

As with this year, next season’s byes will fall over a three-week period.

The season will start on the Thursday before Easter, March 28, with the grand final on September 28.

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