SYDNEY (AP) — Coronavirus restrictions forced the shutdown of A-League soccer in Australia in late March. Now fog at Canberra airport has indirectly jeopardized its restart.
Three A-League teams from Melbourne tried – but failed – to leave Victoria state before the border with New South Wales closed at midnight Tuesday. Government officials previously announced that the border between the two states would be closed in an effort to contain a serious spike in COVID-19 cases in Victoria over the past two weeks, including a record 191 new cases on Tuesday.
But a charter flight with players from the Melbourne Victory, Melbourne City and Western United was stranded on the tarmac when poor visibility due to fog at Canberra airport meant the plane couldn’t take off.
Football Federation Australia will now attempt to secure an exemption from the New South Wales government for players and staff from the teams to get into the state, where most of the matches in the restart are scheduled to be played.
Victory and United are due to restart the A-League season on July 16, with United then scheduled to play City on July 20. The A-League is the last professional sport in Australia to restart its season since the coronavirus shutdown and plans to play 27 matches in 28 days to complete the regular season.
”We will now begin the process to seek exemptions from the NSW government to allow the teams to enter NSW for them to continue their season,” A-League official Greg O’Rourke said. ”If we find it necessary to revise the match schedule we will do so accordingly and will announce once confirmed.”
Later Tuesday, New South Wales deputy premier John Barilaro indicated his government would work with the soccer federation to help the Victorian clubs cross the border.
”I think we’ve got to work with the FFA, so I’ll be reaching out … and then see what they need,” Barilaro said. ”If we’ve got an opportunity to do so, let’s bring them across the border, let’s park them in the regions or here in the city … the exemptions exist and we’ll work with health officials as we’ve done previously with all the other codes.”
Other professional football teams in the country made earlier moves to get their teams out of Victoria.
The 10 Australian Football League clubs departed for New South Wales and Queensland over the past two days. The National Rugby League’s Melbourne Storm have been out of Victoria for almost two weeks, and Super Rugby’s Melbourne Rebels moved to Canberra on June 26.
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