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Sport

Australian league boss says games will resume on time despite stranded teams

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Football Federation Australia’s Head of Leagues Greg O’Rourke said on Thursday its top-flight championship will restart on schedule despite three teams being marooned in Melbourne amid an outbreak of COVID-19.

Two attempts to fly A-League teams Melbourne Victory, Melbourne City and Western United out of Victoria to neighbouring New South Wales failed this week due to weather conditions and the closure of the border between the states to curb the spread of the disease.

The FFA is now relying on New South Wales authorities to issue exemptions to allow the teams to travel there ahead of the July 16 resumption of the season, which was suspended in March.

Even then, the teams would need to serve out a 14-day quarantine in New South Wales before being allowed to rejoin the competition.

O’Rourke told reporters on a video call on Thursday that the quarantine would force a rejig of the Melbourne teams’ games but the season would still restart on July 16 and be completed by the end of August.

“There was a number of leagues around the world who decided not to finish (due to COVID-19) ... This is not one of those leagues,” O’Rourke said.

“I’m going to be solely focused on ... getting the game back on the pitch, finishing the 27 games and the final series and delivering the A-League.”

O’Rourke said organisers had a week’s leeway at the end of August to manage schedule changes and could move the championship-deciding “Grand Final” on Aug. 23 back if necessary.

But he confirmed players were only contracted until the end of August, leaving little room for adjustments.

The FFA has been criticised by media pundits for being too slow to move the teams out of Melbourne amid the spike in COVID-19 infections, and O’Rourke said he took full responsibility.

“I get the frustration and if anyone wants to have a crack at myself, I accept that. The buck stops with me,” he said.

Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford and Andrew Heavens

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