AFL scrambles again as Melbourne lockdown causes chaos for sport

The AFL is again scrambling to keep its season on track as Victorians prepared to enter a seven-day circuit-breaker lockdown in response to the growing Covid-19 cluster.

Victorian health officials announced on Thursday 11 new cases, taking the total number in the recent outbreak to 26 and throwing the AFL’s plans into chaos.

The state’s acting premier, James Merlino, confirmed approved sporting events would go ahead this week, but without crowds.

But Richmond’s match against Adelaide – originally scheduled to be played at the MCG on Sunday – has been moved to Sydney following the closure of South Australia’s border with Victoria, while the Gold Coast’s game with Hawthorn in Darwin on Saturday has been postponed.

The Hawks were one of three Melbourne teams with interstate matches this week who made plans to leave the city earlier than scheduled to avoid getting trapped by a lockdown. Essendon and Carlton managed to escape on Wednesday, but Hawthorn were unable to fly to the Northern Territory on Thursday.

More fixture changes were likely, with the Demons’ top-of-the-table clash with the Western Bulldogs on Friday night in jeopardy after reports that a player attended a Covid exposure site earlier this week.

All 10 Victorian clubs were on Wednesday ordered into an AFL-imposed lockdown and were told they face restrictions for at least the next seven days, with players and staff asked to leave only for playing, training and essential other reasons.

It comes after two venues – the MCG and Marvel Stadium – were visited on Sunday by people who later tested positive for the coronavirus.

Given the volume of clubs based in Melbourne, the AFL is the league most affected by the new measures. The NRL remains relatively unaffected with the Storm already in camp on the Gold Coast and intending to extend their stay in Queensland beyond Thursday night’s game in Brisbane.

But the NRL was expected to make a call on the opening State of Origin game, scheduled to take place at the MCG on 9 June. Peter V’landys said the league would consult with biosecurity experts before making a decision, with Canberra, Perth and Adelaide shaping up as alternative venue options.

Queensland also put up its hand to host the opener after state premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she was in talks with the NRL over a possible switch to either Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane or Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville.

Super Netball club Melbourne Vixens also left the state earlier than planned due to the outbreak, bringing forward their departure to Queensland from Friday to Wednesday.

The Collingwood Magpies were due to travel to Sydney on Thursday, two days earlier than expected, while the Sydney-based Giants – who had been in Melbourne last weekend – flew to Perth in the morning.


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