By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia’s major sports leagues and Olympic hopefuls scrambled to make contingency plans on Thursday after authorities announced a seven-day lockdown in the southern state of Victoria to contain an outbreak of COVID-19 in Melbourne.
Australia’s second most populous state will be locked down from 11:59 pm (1359 GMT) on Thursday after authorities reported 12 new cases, bringing the Melbourne outbreak to 26.
Crowds have been banned from sporting events and people ordered to stay home except for work, exercise, shopping for essentials, providing care and getting vaccinated.
Melbourne, the country’s sporting capital, has more than a dozen professional teams competing in top flight leagues, and all faced disruption and schedule changes.
The Australian Football League (AFL), the top flight of Australian Rules football, has 10 teams based in Victoria and two left the state on Wednesday.
An AFL match between the Melbourne-based Hawthorn Hawks and Gold Coast Suns scheduled for the weekend in Darwin was in doubt after officials in the Northern Territory declared Melbourne a COVID-19 hotspot.
A Sunday match between AFL champions Richmond Tigers and Adelaide Crows was also set to be moved from the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) to Sydney after South Australia state closed its border to Victoria.
The AFL said a spectator among the crowd of 33,000 at Melbourne’s Docklands Stadium last Sunday for the game between Essendon and North Melbourne had tested positive.
That followed confirmation on Wednesday of a positive test from a fan at an AFL match at the MCG last weekend.
Athletics Australia (AA) moved to relocate Victoria-based athletes ahead of an Olympic warmup meeting on the Gold Coast next week.
“AA’s high performance team started to relocate athletes to Queensland from Monday onwards, and are continuing to assist a number of athletes to move out of Melbourne to Queensland today before lockdown begins,” AA said.
“Most of them are now out, but there’s still a lot to work through.”
Swimming Australia said all of its Victoria-based swimmers had exited the state by Wednesday in the leadup to Olympic trials in Adelaide next month.
The lockdown prompted New Zealand to suspend quarantine-free travel from Victoria, leaving the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman clash between the Melbourne Rebels and Otago Highlanders in Queenstown on the weekend in doubt.
The match was expected to be shifted to Sydney, Australian media reported.
A protracted lockdown to control a second wave outbreak in Victoria last year forced more than a dozen Melbourne-based sports teams to play away from home for several months to complete their seasons.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)