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Sunshine State beckons for Aussie sports amid coronavirus

Australian Football League CEO Gillon McLachlan speaks to the media in Melbourne, on July 15, 2020. Six Melbourne-area Australian Football League teams have already been relocated temporarily to Queensland because of a spike in COVID-19 infections in Victoria state and a subsequent six-week lockdown of the city. (James Ross/AAP Image via AP)

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) -- Australia's so-called Sunshine State continues to be a safe haven for professional sports in the country because of its relatively strong success in dealing with the coronavirus.

    Six Melbourne-area Australian Football League teams have already been relocated temporarily to Queensland because of a spike in COVID-19 infections in Victoria state and a subsequent six-week lockdown of the city. On Wednesday, AFL officials said more would follow, with the Melbourne Demons moving further north following their stint in Sydney.

    "This is a clear plan that makes Queensland the base for our competition and provides greater certainty for everyone," AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said at a news conference. "Understanding the ongoing situation with COVID-19 in Victoria, Victorian teams will be based out of Queensland for up to 10 weeks as we aim to get the majority of the season complete in that time frame."

    The AFL still has 11 rounds of a scheduled 17-round home-and-away season to complete. The four clubs from Western Australia and South Australia states had been based in Queensland for several weeks before returning to their hometowns in Perth and Adelaide this month.

    Australia's National Rugby League, concerned over a fresh outbreak in two Sydney suburbs where many NRL players live, is also considering relocating some teams to Queensland. Although at this stage, with the league seven rounds into a comeback following the coronavirus lockdown, most teams remain in New South Wales state.

    And the A-League, set to resume this weekend for the first professional soccer in the country since March, said it was preparing a "Plan B" option where all clubs will be located in Queensland to play out the remainder of the season.

    Queensland shut its borders to all but essential travel and freight movements in late March and only reopened last week to most of the country. Victoria residents had to undergo two weeks of quarantine or prove they had been out of the state for the same period to be allowed into Queensland, usually a warmer-weather destination for tourists from the southern states in Australia's winter.

    On Wednesday, Queensland health officials reported no new infections, as it has for much of the past three weeks. There have been nearly 1,100 COVID-19 cases in Queensland and just six deaths.

    Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk earlier Wednesday prefaced the increase of clubs moving to her state from Victoria, the game's traditional home.

    "AFL is more than a sport to Victorians," she said. "We know how they feel. Given the choice between not having a season and having it based in Queensland I think I know what the fans would like to happen."

    There is a reason for Palaszczuk's warm hospitality -- she'd love nothing more than for Brisbane to host the season finale. Traditionally the Grand Final is held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, often with a capacity crowd of 100,000.

    "As I told Gil, if the season (is) based here then the grand final should be played here too," she said.

    McLachlan wasn't giving anything away Wednesday on the location of the championship decider.

    "The grand final is at the MCG until there are circumstances and reasons that it can't be, but we're not talking about that today," McLachlan said. He has said the AFL would decide on a venue for the grand final in August.

    The MCG holds a contract to host the final game but because of travel restrictions and increasing coronavirus cases.

    The Australian Rugby League Commission, which administers the NRL, said it has considered basing all 16 clubs in Queensland due to the outbreak in the western Sydney suburbs of Campbelltown and Liverpool. The Brisbane Broncos, Gold Coast Titans and North Queensland Cowboys are permanently based in the Sunshine state.

    "I would say in our contingency planning that anything is possible, we need to be able to be really dynamic and agile, but that (relocation) wouldn't be really high up on our list of potential mitigations for this," interim NRL chief Andrew Abdo said. "At this point in time, we're hopeful we don't need to get there."

    A-League soccer officials said the new suburban outbreak in Sydney could force a move to Queensland, but that appeared to be on the back-burner when the league released a revised schedule on Wednesday. It shows 27 regular- season matches being played in 34 days, followed by playoffs. They will use six venues -- five in New South Wales state and the other in Brisbane.

    Australia's other professional football code, rugby union, has been back playing for two weeks with the Victorian team, the Melbourne Rebels, based in Canberra. There will be no matches played in Melbourne in the five-team Super Rugby AU tournament.

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