A-League restart hit by border closure

Nathaniel Atkinson of Melbourne City is contested by Dimitri Petratos of the Newcastle Jets during the round 26 A-League match. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Plans by the Australian A-League to restart its season next week have been hit after three teams failed to escape from the state of Victoria before its border was closed due to a Covid-19 flare-up.

Australia has closed the border between its two most populous states, Victoria and New South Wales, due to a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases in Victorian state capital Melbourne. It is the first time since the Spanish flu pandemic in 1919 that the border has been shut.

Three Victoria-based teams raced to an airport on Monday evening in an attempt to leave the state before the closure, but were held up when their charter plane could not take off due to fog. A second attempt to leave via air on Tuesday night also failed, after teams and officials were informed when they arrived at the airport that they would have to complete a two-week quarantine if they landed as planned in Canberra.

Football Federation Australia is now seeking government exemptions for Melbourne City, Melbourne Victory and Western United to be allowed to enter NSW. NSW deputy premier John Barilano has said he is confident that exemptions will be granted.

FFA head of leagues Greg O’Rourke said, “We did absolutely everything we could to get the players and staff out of Victoria by midnight tonight, but in such a rapidly-evolving situation, unfortunately it was just not possible.

“We are in discussions the NSW Government, and we will continue to seek the exemptions necessary for the teams to travel.

“Given the strict league and club protocols our teams have been following since 2 June 2020, combined with the fact we have not had any players or high performance staff return a positive Covid-19 testing result, we feel that we have a very good case to gain the exemptions and get the teams to NSW to complete the Hyundai A-League season, and we will make every attempt to do so.”

Fox Sports reported that Barilano said: “I think we’ve got to work with the FFA so I’ll be reaching out to the FFA to see what support they need.

“Of course if we’ve got an opportunity to do, so let’s bring them across the border, let’s park them in the regions or here in the city, and make sure they’re part of the A-League that kicks off shortly.

“We’ll work through it but I think there’s a real opportunity to do it, and there is a possibility, the exemptions exist, and we’ll work with health officials, as we’ve done previously with all the other codes.

“No-one would have thought we could have brought the (NRL’s) Warriors over at the time but we did … so we’ve got a process in place to deal with it. so we’ll work with the FFA.”

NRL team the New Zealand Warriors was moved to Australia ahead of that league’s restart at the end of May.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the viability of the 2019-20 A-League season is under threat if a solution cannot be found. Melbourne City and Western United are contenders for the league playoffs, and its currently unclear whether these could go ahead.

O’Rourke said the A-League schedule remained unchanged for now. The league is to restart its 2019-20 season on July 16. The first match is currently scheduled to be Melbourne Victory v Western United at AAMI Park in Melbourne.

The Sydney Morning Herald also reported that there is unhappiness at some clubs at how the situation has been handled. The newspaper quoted one club source as saying the series of events had made “us and the game look stupid…All the other sports seemed to know that they had to get out of Melbourne early except for us.”

Western United player Alessandro Diamanti documented the second trip to the airport on Tuesday via Instagram posts.