March 15, 2020 / 11:30 PM / 12 days ago

Australia's A-League to play on with spectator bans

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia’s top flight A-League soccer competition has banned fans from matches for the rest of the season in an effort to contain the spread of coronavirus, Football Federation Australia (FFA) said on Monday.

Media had speculated that the league would be suspended due to government travel curbs that require two teams, Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory, to be quarantined for 14 days upon returning to Australia after Sunday’s match in New Zealand.

But FFA chief James Johnson said the matches would be rearranged into a compressed schedule after their quarantine period and New Zealand-based Wellington had agreed to remain in Australia to allow the season to continue.

FFA said the title-deciding Grand Final match in the professional women’s W-League competition would also be played behind closed doors.

“It is our intent to compress the rest of that season,” A-League boss Greg O’Rourke told a news conference in Sydney on Monday, adding that the league was in talks with clubs and venues to try to complete the six rounds in three to four weeks.

“We think...that is a better solution with the facts we have in hand, rather than suspend it and work out what will happen with the health situation in months to come.”

Travel curbs in New Zealand and Australia have already forced the suspension of Super Rugby, the sprawling rugby union competition which involves teams from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Japan.

Australia’s most popular winter football codes, the Australian Football League and National Rugby League, have resisted suspending their competitions but matches will be played at closed stadiums.

Melbourne Victory players expressed frustration with the government’s travel clampdown after getting the all-clear to head to New Zealand for the Phoenix game.

“Friday we were promised, by the Australian government, that there would be no ramifications returning to Australia on Monday,” Victory captain Ola Toivonen wrote on Twitter.

“Looking at 14 days’ quarantine now.”

John Didulica, head of the Australian players’ union, said Victory had only agreed to travel to New Zealand after government assurances.

“It’s a disgrace,” he told Australian media.

“If we had been told this was a possibility then we would not have flown over there.”

Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Toby Davis and Clarence Fernandez

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