Coronavirus: What to know about the Australian Football League, who plan to play in empty stadiums this season

The coronavirus pandemic is causing sports cancellations and postponements all across the world. Multiple states are under a state of emergency as politicians from the local to federal level along with public health officials are recommending large gatherings of people -- including sporting events -- in COVID-19 hotspots be canceled or closed to the public. But in Australia, the Australian Football League kicked off its 2020 season on Thursday, but fans were not permitted to attend.

On Monday, the Australian government called for a cancellation of gatherings of more than 500 people, and citizens have been warned to expect the COVID-19 outbreak to reach its peak in Australia sometime between May and July. The AFL said that the competition will be immediately postponed if and when any player or official tests positive for the coronavirus. The AFL could be forced to reassess their decision with the government and health officials at some point in the near future, but in the meantime, CBS Sports is here to provide a breakdown on the rules for the fairly complex game.

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The AFL, also known as Aussie Rules or Footy, is played between two teams of eighteen players, with the goal of the game to kick the egg-shaped 'football' between a series of four goalposts. You want to move the ball down the field to score, like the NFL, but the number of points you score depends on which post the ball goes between. Kicking the ball between the middle goal posts is worth six points, while the ball hitting the post or going through the big post and one of the outer lower posts is worth one point and called a 'behind'. Some other rules of note:

  • One AFL game consists of four 20 minute quarters, and each quarter begins with the umpire bouncing the ball in the center circle of the field, similar to a jump ball in basketball, in AFL, this is called a 'ruck'
  • There are three ways to move the ball down the field: 1) Running, but a player is required to bounce it every 16 yards; 2) A player is allowed to use their fist to hit it forward, commonly referred to as a handball; 3) Kicking the ball down the field
  • Players can tackle opponents using their hands or they can use their entire body to block opponents, but players are not allowed to push opponents in the back and doing so will result in a free kick
  • There are positions in the game (forwards, defenders, midfielders), but there's no such thing as offsides
  • There are a total of 18 AFL clubs in Australia: 10 in Victoria, and two in New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland
  • The top eight teams at the end of the season will go on to play finals (qualifying, elimination, semi and preliminary finals)
  • The championship game is called the AFL Grand Final and its played at the beginning of October at the Melbourne Cricket Ground

With all four of the major US sports leagues currently on hold, the AFL could prove to be a source of entertainment for American sports fans. 

CBS News has the latest updates about the virus, which has affected various sports globally and in the United States and more than 10,000 people have died due to the virus. 

Here at CBS Sports, we have running updates on how sports leagues are responding to coronavirus.

Katherine Acquavella joined CBS Sports in 2018. Her work has appeared in Yankees Magazine and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's Memories and Dreams magazine. She is a graduate of St. John's... Full Bio

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