MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The Australian Football League (AFL) said on Wednesday it will move all 10 teams based in Victoria state to the northeast of the country to keep the season alive amid a growing outbreak of COVID-19.
AFL Chief Executive Gillon McLachlan said the teams would be based in Queensland state for up to 10 weeks and would not return to Victoria for home matches during the period.
“We will continue to keep our game alive for fans, for clubs and the jobs. We persevere,” McLachlan told reporters outside of AFL headquarters in Melbourne.
McLachlan added that the league would also set up a “transition hub” to allow players’ families to join them in Queensland.
“If families and loved ones want to join their partners up in Queensland, we will facilitate this,” he said.
Australia has been heralded as a global leader in containing COVID-19, but is now battling a surge of new cases in Victoria and clusters of infections in Sydney.
Victoria, which recorded 238 cases in the last 24 hours, last week forced about five million people into a six-week lockdown.
Queensland, which has kept its border shut to travellers from Victoria, had no new infections in the last 24 hours.
The AFL has been announcing its fixtures on a rolling basis due to the fluid COVID-19 situation and had yet to finalise its schedule after the next two rounds, McLachlan added.
The move to Queensland has fanned speculation that the AFL’s championship-deciding ‘Grand Final’ could be moved out of Melbourne for the first time.
Other Australian states have long coveted the Grand Final which draws a capacity crowd to the 100,000-seat Melbourne Cricket Ground each September and a huge national TV audience.
“If the season is largely played in Queensland then I think it’s only fair we also host the Grand Final,” Queensland state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters on Wednesday.
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Richard Pullin