The stadiums may be empty, but the University of Canberra Capitals will still have the opportunity to defend their Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) title.
The start of the 2020-2021 season has been moved to November, with Basketball Australia making the decision to delay its commencement to align with expected easing of COVID-19 restrictions for elite sport and public movement between states and territories.
Basketball Australia’s Head of Women in Basketball and member of the Canberra Capitals’ first premiership team 20 years ago, Lauren Jackson AO, said the league needed to give fans and broadcasters clarity with the new season.
“Should restrictions ease during the coming months, we will adapt accordingly with the view to our passionate members and fans being able to attend games when it’s safe and viable to do so,” she said.
The University of Canberra Capitals launched their championship campaign on Wednesday, 27 May as Basketball Australia confirmed the 2020-2021 WNBL season will tip off on November 20.
Games will be played without fans until at least Christmas due to restrictions on mass gatherings.
General manager of the University of Canberra Capitals Lucille Bailie said the club is delighted to begin preparations for its WNBL title defence, with last season’s grand final victory feeling like a distant memory.
There will be 21 games in the regular season, with the grand final series to finish at the end of March, leaving a small window for Australian Opals preparations ahead of the rescheduled Tokyo Olympic Games in July.
“The health and safety of our athletes, staff, supporters and stakeholders will always be our number one priority,” said Bailie. “With that top of mind, we look forward to mapping out plans for the new season and continuing the success of the UC Capitals.
“We know the confirmation of our season starting in November will give our city an exciting and positive thing to look forward to after missing our sport during the past couple of months.”
Capitals head coach Paul Goriss has been working to re-sign players before the WNBL’s free-agency period as his team’s entire roster came off contract following its championship win.
The Capitals are set to announce their first player signings in the coming week to begin building momentum ahead of their title defence.
The opening round of the season will be on 20-22 November, with the final round on 3-6 March.
The semifinal series will be played from 12-21 March, ahead of the grand final series from 25-31 March.
With revenue set to be impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, Basketball Australia’s priority was to ensure the number of regular-season games was not reduced and that the current minimum player payment for Australian athletes was maintained.
Jackson said it was vital the sport doesn’t regress because of lost revenue and broadcasting rights.
“Australia is the envy of the basketball world for the quality of talent we produce both on and off the court,” she said. “With an eye on the Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 Women’s Basketball World Cup in Sydney, having a strong domestic league while providing opportunities for our current and emerging talent is our priority.
“Basketball Australia and the WNBL Commission are considering other initiatives to further support the league and teams during these unprecedented times, while ensuring the integrity of Australia’s longest-running elite women’s sporting competition is not compromised.”