Six days out from the new A-League season, and the competition has cruelly been plunged into another COVID drama.
The A-League overcame seemingly endless hurdles, including border closures that forced the competition to be played out in a Sydney-based hub, to complete the 2019-20 season in August.
But after a pain-free lead-up to the new season, which is set to kick off with newcomers Macarthur FC against Western Sydney Wanderers on Sunday, the competition has been forced to safeguard itself following the growing COVID-19 cluster on Sydney’s northern beaches.
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A-League officials were forced to scrap a planned competition launch on Monday in the wake of the latest update from NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who announced a further 30 new cases had been confirmed in the city.
As a result, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland – home to six of the competition’s 11 teams – have tightened their borders to Sydney arrivals.
There are three Sydney-based teams – Sydney FC, Wanderers and Macarthur – as well as the Central Coast Mariners and Newcastle Jets, while the Wellington Phoenix are basing themselves in Wollongong to start the season.
Officials, however, were optimistic that despite the latest COVID setback the show would go on as planned.
Sydney FC celebrates its Grand Final victory. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/GettySource:Getty Images
They were given a crash course in thinking on the run earlier this year when from mid-season the schedule needed to be revised multiple times – with venues and dates regularly needing to be altered – and are better prepared to roll with the punches this time around.
“The learnings and the collaborative dynamics created from the delivery the 2019/20 season are invaluable to us and on behalf of the thousands of people involved in delivering the last season, I can tell you that we are determined to deliver a great showcase of Australian football once again, both on and off the field,” Head of League’s Greg O’Rourke said on Sunday.
“We have 218 games to play in the next 6-months and our plan is to deliver all of those games.
Macarthur FC and Western Sydney Wanderers are expected to start the season on Sunday. Picture: Mark Evans/GettySource:Getty Images
“Where games are impacted by border closures, we will postpone those matches to be played at the earliest opportunity.
“We are closely tracking and reviewing Government guidance, and building our plans to ensure that we have the flexibility to respond dynamically to any guidance changes. The safety, health and wellbeing of our players, fans and staff is our ultimate priority.”
The A-League has full six months to complete their current season, before their broadcast deal with Fox Sports expires at the end of July – allowing some manoeuvrability in the scheduling.
Regardless, defending premiers Sydney FC will face a turbulent start to the season, with coach Steve Corica and four peninsula-based players all shut out from their homes until the end of the NSW government-enforced lockdown – currently set for Wednesday, though they’ll be closely watching how the situation unfolds.
Sydney play their first two games within NSW, but a January 10 date with Brisbane Roar in Redcliffe could prove problematic, as Queensland will from Monday close its borders to NSW residents in greater Sydney.
Sydney FC recently returned from their Asian Champions League fixtures in Qatar, with their mandatory 14-day quarantine. Picture: Mohamed Farag/GettySource:Getty Images
The Sky Blues recently returned from their Asian Champions League fixtures in Qatar, with their mandatory 14-day quarantine ending on Saturday.
However Corica, as well as players Harry Van der Saag, Calem Nieuwenhof, Patrick Wood and Levi Kaye, were immediately put up in hotels to avoid entering the COVID hotspot.
Northern beaches-based members of Sydney FC’s W-League team, Remy Siemsen and Ally Green, were also moved into hotels.
“We won’t see our families for another four days until Thursday morning to keep out of the danger zone and until we know what’s going on,” Corica said.
“We want to make sure the season goes ahead so we are taking precautions.”
Originally published asFalse start? A-League plunged into chaos
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