Virus spike disrupts sport in Victoria

Social distancing bench during A-League match between Newcastle Jets Melbourne City on March 23, 2020 (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Australian sports are taking measures in response to a spike in Covid-19 cases in the state of Victoria.

Football’s A-League is moving matches out of Melbourne and into a hub in New South Wales. And the National Rugby League has appealed for fans from Victoria not to travel to matches taking place in NSW and Queensland.

Victoria had 41 new cases of Covid-19 on Saturday, double the daily rate a week prior. The state had 11 straight days of double-digit new cases and 204 of Australia’s 270 total active cases.

WA Today reported that the A-League, which is to restart on July 16, has left two upcoming fixtures in Melbourne – Melbourne Victory v Western United on July 16, and Western United v Melbourne City on July 20. All other matches featuring Victorian teams have been moved to the NSW hub.

Prior to the new outbreak in Melbourne, it was thought that the A-League’s NSW hub may not even be required and fans might be allowed to attend matches, so successful was Australia’s containment of the virus. The A-League had been hoping to use the same-city clashes between Melbourne clubs to generate excitement for the season restart.

A-League teams, including those in Melbourne, have been back in training for a couple of weeks. The season was suspended in March due to the pandemic.

In rugby league, NRL chief Peter V’Landys has appealed to Victorian fans to stay away from upcoming matches being played in neighbouring states. School holidays have increased the likelihood that fans will be tempted to travel.

Fox Sports reported that V’Landys said: “I am concerned because of the situation in Victoria and the fact that Victorians can come into NSW and Queensland.

“It only needs a few Victorians coming into NSW and everything is in jeopardy. We are just hoping the Victorians stay home.

“We just hope they stay within Victoria and be selfless at the moment because we don’t want it spreading into NSW or any other state.”

The Melbourne Storm NRL team had already relocated to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.

NRL is going ahead with pans to have crowds in stadiums at 25-per-cent capacity this week, round eight of the 2020 season. Residents of Victoria are not allowed to buy tickets.

Elsewhere in Australian sport, fans will be allowed to enter a Supercars race for the first time since the pandemic started, at the BetEasy Darwin Triple Crown on August 8-9. Supercars restarted last weekend with the BP Ultimate Sydney SuperSprint behind closed doors. This weekend’s Truck Assist Winton SuperSprint will also be behind closed doors.

The Darwin event will sell a limited number of tickets – 4,500 per day – to ensure social distancing. The number of food and beverage vendors operating at the track will be limited, and there will be none of the usual supporting entertainment features, such as music concerts and pit paddock access. The popular pre-race convoy of transport vehicles for the race will take place on the Thursday before race weekend, but will not stop in Darwin city centre.

Covid-19 has had a swift impact on commercial contracts in Australian sport. The A-League and NRL have already renegotiated domestic media-rights deals due to the interruptions this season, and Supercars is in the process of doing so.