Australian Rules: COVID-19 spike chases AFL teams out of Victoria

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The outbreak of COVID-19 in Melbourne has forced 10 Australian Football League (AFL) teams to move out of their home base in southern Victoria state as part of a revised schedule to preserve the integrity of the competition.

The teams in the top flight of Australian Rules will base themselves and play matches in other states that have reined in the infection for the forseeable future, the AFL said on Friday.

"The AFL needed to get the 10 Victorian clubs out of that state due to a worrying spike in the COVID-19 infection rate," the league's website here said.

There were 66 new cases in Victoria on Friday following more than 70 cases reported in each of the previous four days.

Authorities reimposed lockdowns on Thursday in more than 30 Melbourne suburbs, mainly in the north and west.

The lockdown order prompted multiple AFL teams’ players to move out of their homes in the hotspots and into other accommodation on Wednesday before the midnight deadline.

All nine matches in the sixth round of competition next week will be played in Sydney or southern Queensland state.

Some teams will then head to Western Australia or South Australia (SA) in the following round, the AFL said.

Melbourne-based team St Kilda Saints will head to SA to play the Adelaide Crows in round seven but the state government has ruled out hosting an AFL hub of Melbourne teams.

“We know that’s very disappointing,” SA health minister Stephen Wade told SEN radio.

“Australian rules football is a cherished part of Australian life but public health has to come first. We’ve already seen cases of community transmission from state to state and we need to make sure AFL is not a bridge for that.”

The AFL, which resumed last month after a near-three month suspension due, is scheduling matches on a rolling basis to try to mitigate problems thrown up by COVID-19.

Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore