BRISBANE, Australia (AP) – Australia’s so-called Sunshine State continues to be a safe haven for professional sports in the country because of its relatively strong success in dealing with the coronavirus.
Six Melbourne-area Australian Football League teams have already been relocated temporarily to Queensland because of a spike in COVID-19 infections in Victoria state and a subsequent six-week lockdown of the city. On Wednesday, AFL officials told the Queensland government they would like more clubs to make the move north.
Australia’s National Rugby League, concerned over a fresh outbreak in two Sydney suburbs where many NRL players live, is also considering relocating some teams to Queensland. Although at this stage, with the league seven rounds into a comeback following the coronavirus lockdown, most teams remain in New South Wales state.
And the A-League, set to resume this weekend for the first professional soccer in the country since March, said it was preparing a “Plan B” option where all clubs will be located in Queensland to play out the remainder of the season.
Queensland shut its borders to all but essential travel and freight movements in late March and only reopened last week to most of the country. Victoria residents had to undergo two weeks of quarantine or prove they had been out of the state for the same period to be allowed into Queensland, usually a warmer-weather destination for tourists from the southern states in Australia’s winter.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Wednesday said AFL chief Gillon McLachlan had requested for more clubs to be based in the state.
“He is looking to book accommodation for hundreds of players and officials at Queensland hotels for two months,” the premier said. “I stress none of these measures can happen without strict quarantine protocols and the COVID management plan that has allowed the AFL season to proceed.
“As everyone knows, AFL’s more than a sport to Victorians. We know how they feel. Given the choice between not having a season and having it based in Queensland I think I know what the fans would like to happen.”
There is a reason for Palaszczuk’s warm hospitality — she’d love nothing more than for Brisbane to host the season finale. Traditionally the Grand Final is held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground with often a capacity crowd of 100,000.
“As I told Gil, if the season (is) based here then the grand final should be played here too,” she said.
McLachlan was due to face a news conference later Wednesday.
He has said the AFL would decide on a venue for the grand final in August. The MCG holds a contract to host the final game but because of travel restrictions and increasing coronavirus cases, there is a strong likelihood it will be played outside Victoria for the first time.
The Australian Rugby League Commission, which administers the NRL, said it has considered basing all 16 clubs in Queensland due to the outbreak in the western Sydney suburbs of Campbelltown and Liverpool. The Brisbane Broncos, Gold Coast Titans and North Queensland Cowboys are permanently based in the Sunshine state.
“I would say in our contingency planning that anything is possible, we need to be able to be really dynamic and agile, but that (relocation) wouldn’t be really high up on our list of potential mitigations for this,” interim NRL chief Andrew Abdo said. “At this point in time, we’re hopeful we don’t need to get there.”
A-League soccer officials said the new suburban outbreak in Sydney could force a move to Queensland, but that appeared to be on the back-burner when the league released a revised schedule on Wednesday. It shows 27 regular- season matches being played in 34 days, followed by playoffs. They will use six venues – five in New South Wales state and the other in Brisbane.
Australia’s other professional football code, rugby union, has been back playing for two weeks with the Victorian team, the Melbourne Rebels, based in Canberra. There will be no matches played in Melbourne in the five-team Super Rugby AU tournament.
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