The Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide Power have become the latest AFL teams to leave their home state and head to Melbourne, following a COVID-19 outbreak in South Australia.
Despite the SA government opting against a lockdown, the AFL have made the call to remove the Crows and Power, fearing the situation could escalate.
“Bringing the two South Australian teams to Victoria today minimises risk for the competition as we progress the season in a constantly changing environment,” AFL General Manager Travis Auld said in a statement.
“The two teams travelling today will fly to Victoria via a charter flight and will remain in the state ahead of this Round’s matches.
“While COVID-19 continues to impact the community, we will work closely with state governments, health officials, our clubs and players to ensure the best possible outcome for everyone in the game.”
While the Power were scheduled to play Hawthorn at Marvel Stadium in Round 16, the decision puts the Crows’ match against Brisbane, scheduled for the Adelaide Oval at 4:35pm on Saturday afternoon, up in the air.
The Fremantle Dockers’ clash with the Carlton Blues has also landed a new home, the match moved from Optus Stadium to GMHBA Stadium in Geelong.
The Dockers had requested the match be moved to Launceston’s University of Tasmania Oval, but the Tasmanian government refused the AFL’s request.
Earlier in the week, the Brisbane Lions, Gold Coast, West Coast and the Dockers made their own hasty departures to Melbourne.
The league, reacting to lockdowns in south-east Queensland and Perth, is in the process of rejigging its round-16 fixture.
Thursday’s game between the Suns and Richmond has been moved from Metricon Stadium to Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium; while Fremantle’s clash with Carlton, originally slated for Perth’s Optus Stadium, will also need to be shifted.
Sydney and GWS are already based in Melbourne, having packed and flown out last week because of Bondi’s growing COVID-19 cluster.
Australia’s coronavirus outbreaks and ensuing border closures represent the AFL’s biggest fixturing challenge since last year, when clubs were shuttled into south-east Queensland hubs.
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan made it clear to players earlier this month that hubs were a last resort, adding he envisaged “two, three weeks (away from home), max”.
Sydney’s two clubs were hopeful of returning home after round 17 but that is increasingly unlikely, with the Swans trying to make arrangements for more players to join the current group in Melbourne.
Brisbane plan to return home after playing the Crows, although players have been told to pack for several weeks.
Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced on Tuesday that south-east Queensland was entering a three-day lockdown.
The AFL confirmed soon after that the Lions, the Suns, the Dockers and the Eagles would all fly out on Tuesday.
“The four teams travelling today will fly to Victoria via charter flights and will be Covid-tested on arrival and isolate until they each receive a negative result,” AFL fixturing boss Travis Auld said.
“We will continue to remain adaptable as the season progresses.
“We will work closely with state governments, health officials, our clubs and players to ensure the best possible outcome for everyone in the game.”
Brisbane were already to planning to fly to Melbourne on Wednesday for their game against the Crows because of South Australia’s decision to close their border to Queensland.
West Coast were due to travel to Victoria this week before Sunday’s clash with Sydney, which has been relocated to Geelong.
Meanwhile, North Melbourne players and staff have been cleared to return to training after testing negative for COVID-19.
The Kangaroos had been isolating after visiting Melbourne airport at the same time as a flight attendant, who later tested positive for coronavirus.