MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Aussie rules football will kick off again on June 11, with the second round of the Australian Football League to be played almost three months after the competition was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Australian Football League chief executive Gillon McLachlan on Friday announced the matches for the next four rounds of the condensed season would be released within 10 days. The AFL, Australia’s most-watched sports league in terms of attendance and TV audience, was suspended on March 22 after one round.
Quarantine requirements and travel restrictions from some states means players and staff from the four AFL clubs from Western Australia and South Australia — the West Coast Eagles, Fremantle Dockers, Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide — will be temporarily be relocated to hubs on the Gold Coast, an hour south of Brisbane.
“Today in this brave new world … I want to announce that our AFL competition is returning,” McLachlan said. “From Monday all clubs will return to training and all AFL clubs will resume full contact training a week later.
“Today is a significant step in getting footy back for everyone … we know as this situation continues to evolve we have to be agile and continue to adapt as necessary.”
The AFL season has been shorted to 17 rounds, and the initial rounds are likely to feature the relocated clubs from Western Australia and South Australia playing each other and the two other Queensland-based clubs.
The families of players and staff in the four relocated teams will be allowed to stay in the home-away-from-home hubs on the Gold Coast. The players union supported the concept of the hubs as a means of getting the league restarted.
The players have “been incredibly resilient on this issue and they have moved straight to the positives of ‘okay we’re going to get on with this,’” AFL Players Association chief executive Paul Marsh said. “They don’t have a lot of choice at the moment. They’re getting on with it and they’re going to make the best of it, so it’s a credit to them.”
McLachlan said all AFL players will be tested for coronavirus twice a week.
Defending champion Richmond opened the season against Carlton at an empty Melbourne Cricket Ground on March 19 because of restrictions on gatherings in the pandemic. That was a week after the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne was canceled, and less than two weeks after 86,000 people gathered at the MCG to watch Australia beat India in the women’s Twenty20 Cricket World Cup final.
The National Rugby League competition is set to recommence on May 28. The NRL season was suspended in mid-March after two rounds. Other football leagues in Australia are aiming to resume in July and August.