As a series of contingency measures to deal with Queensland’s COVID-19 epidemic are hammered out, the NRL may consider postponing Sunday’s grand final in Brisbane if fans are not allowed.
The next 24 hours will be crucial in determining whether the NRL decider will take place at Suncorp Stadium, with league officials concerned of leaving it too late to decide if the game will be relocated or played as planned in Brisbane.
Three days before the grand final, it presents a logistical nightmare, with capacity for Sunday’s finale already lowered to 75% after six new instances of coronavirus were detected in Queensland on Thursday.
“We are, of course, in the hands of the Queensland government, and we have faith in their ability,” Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys told AAP.
“But we have contingency plans in place for any scenario, and we simply have to take each day as it comes and assess the situation before making the proper decisions.”
“At this point, it’s all systems go for Suncorp on Sunday, with the capped crowd of 75%, and we’re being told that won’t change.
“We’re hopeful that the outbreak doesn’t worsen and that we can stay on track.”
The NRL may be forced to respond quickly on Friday with the potential of shutdown looming over southeast Queensland.
If case numbers climb and a last-minute relocation is required, Townsville will host the premiership decider between South Sydney and Penrith.
On Thursday, however, a fresh case of community transmission was reported in the North Queensland city, further complicating the logistical situation.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has so far refrained from imposing a curfew.
She did acknowledge, though, that if the number of cases continues to climb, Sunday’s game might be played without supporters, regardless of where it is held.
Over the following 24 hours, the government and Queensland Health will make those judgments, which will be based on case statistics.
“If there wasn’t going to be a crowd, we’d have to look at the whole situation,” V’landys added.
“I’m not interested in discussing hypotheticals. We’ve prepared contingency plans for any eventuality.
“We have to consider our alternatives in that regard (if there are no crowds): do we play it or postpone it?
“There are so many possibilities.
“We haven’t had a chance to get down as a commission with (chief executive) Andrew (Abdo) to finalize our plans, but we have a lot of contingencies to consider if things go wrong.
“We need to watch what happens on Friday because we’re getting close, but we’re still quietly confident that we’ll be able to move through on Sunday.”
With the ARL commission on standby for an emergency meeting to decide how to proceed with Sunday’s game, that timing will be vital for the NRL.
There’s a chance the epidemic will worsen, so it’s best to play the game on Sunday to end the season while you still have the chance.
After another costly season of shifting the tournament around COVID-19 outbreaks, an empty stadium would be a significant financial hit for the NRL.
After the capacity was reduced from 52,500 to 39,000, the NRL was forced to refund 25% of ticketholders for the sold-out game.
Refunds will be given to the 25% of people who purchased their tickets the most recently in each allocation based on a last-in, first-out basis.