Tasmania is still optimistic of establishing a standalone AFL team as early as 2025 despite the widespread financial turmoil facing the league and its 18 clubs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Several sources close to the Tasmanian bid have confirmed to ESPN the Island State is still pushing for an entry date of 2025.
That comes despite Collingwood president Eddie McGuire, who is also a member of the AFL's coronavirus cabinet, stating the likelihood of a Tasmanian team had decreased dramatically due to the league's newfound financial difficulties.
"What is heartbreaking is, last Tuesday week, we had the presidents' meeting and it was a really good discussion and we put it [the Tasmanian bid] on the agenda ... and really got stuck into and there was a real feel that 'the time is there' and all sort of said 'we've nearly got enough dough to have a go at this','' McGuire said on Footy Classified. "[But now it is] gone, gone, it's all gone."
Since 2001, the Tasmanian Government has backed Hawthorn to play games in Launceston while in 2012 a similar deal was struck with North Melbourne to host games in Hobart. The government's outlay is a combined total of about $7 million a season.
But the government is now throwing its support towards a standalone team, officially lobbying for an AFL and AFLW license after receiving a 268-page report put together by its Taskforce committee. The report stated Tasmania would reap a windfall of more than $110 million a year and a standalone club would create hundreds of jobs in the economically-challenged state, with the government committing to put its financial muscle behind the team.
Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein and members of the Taskforce have been in regular contact with the AFL and relevant stakeholders since the report's submission. And despite the financial difficulties currently facing the league and its clubs, those close to the Tasmanian bid are still confident of gaining entry into the AFL in 2025.
"Clearly there are other priorities in the world at the moment and all professional sports are rightly focused on survival rather than growth at the minute," Taskforce chair Brett Godfrey told ESPN. "The AFL is not immune to these pressures and undoubtedly their focus is to ensure the competition and present 18 clubs come through this on the 'other side.'
"Our model wasn't built based off one club relocating or failing - it was about a Tasmanian team. It was about the future of the game having more than 18 clubs.
"We will remain persistent in our view that 2025 is that opportunity but [we are being] patient in that the game doesn't need a distraction today. Current events however will be long gone and sorted by that time ."
Another source close to the bid was even more forthright.
"I think saying that [the Tasmanian bid is now off the table due to the coronavirus impact] is an easy out," the source told ESPN. "This is a state that has helped save two AFL teams [Hawthorn and North Melbourne] from severe financial difficulties, so why can't we sustain ourselves?"
The Tasmanian Government kept its cards close to its chest when asked whether it was still pushing for a 2025 entry.
"The Tasmanian Government is considering its position and we will look to have further discussions with the clubs and AFL in due course," Gutwein told ESPN.
And despite speculation that some smaller AFL clubs may be forced to merge, relocate or even fold, AFL boss Gillon McLachlan -- after the AFL secured a $600-million credit line from banks -- stated he expected all 18 clubs to survive in the short-term.
"We are going into this with 18 clubs and we will come out with 18 clubs," he told SEN. "That is our commitment over the next four, six, eight, 10 months, whatever it looks like, that we will have the same structure at the elite level."