Clubs, league stunned: AFL restart plans thrown into chaos
SA health chiefs on Wednesday night rejected a request to give Adelaide and Port Adelaide players special quarantine exemptions to fly in and out of the state for matches.
It is the second time in two days South Australia has knocked back the AFL's proposed protocols.
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"On public health advice, the committee has resolved that any economic and social benefits to be gained by allowing modification or exemptions to SA quarantine requirements for AFL players and staff were not outweighed by the public health risk," an SA government committee said in a letter to league boss Gillon McLachlan.
The ruling means the Crows and the Power will be forced to relocate along with West Coast and Fremantle to the eastern seaboard to allow the season to restart.
Port Adelaide president David Koch said the preference for his club would be to base themselves out of Queensland. He also said he was disappointed with the decision from the state government.
In another massive blow, the SA committee has also banned the two SA teams from contact training, and from training in groups larger than 10, until Monday, June 8.
SA Premier Steven Marshall said repeatedly this week that he supported a fly in, fly out arrangement for the two Adelaide clubs. Both clubs and the AFL were on Wednesday night stunned by the decision.
"We acknowledge that for the AFL to recommence fixtures on its preferred timeframe this may require players and staff to travel to an alternate location for the medium term," the committee's letter said.
The AFL had hoped to get all 18 clubs back on the training track on Monday which now cannot happen unless the four clubs immediately relocate.
The Eagles and Dockers are leaning towards setting up camp for at least the first part of the season on the Gold Coast.
The move to Queensland would lessen the disadvantage for the WA teams against Melbourne rivals and also make the most of the warmer weather and recreational facilities.
Koch had been supremely confident South Australian authorities would relent and allow his team to bypass strict 14-day isolation laws, but SA's chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier, said the AFL's plan posed a "relatively high risk".
Updated protocols sent to Spurrier's team by the AFL on Tuesday night failed to convince them.
"It is a very complex matter and we're at a very, very critical point in our fight against COVID-19," Spurrier said.
The AFL is in race against time to finalise the first five or six-round phase of the fixture which it had hoped to release before the end of the week.
Victoria remains the only state where full-contact training is permitted.
One club today said there was scope for two teams to share planes for interstate road trips to either Queensland or New South Wales.
It would see those two clubs play two games interstate, such as Brisbane and Gold Coast, before they returned home to Melbourne.
Under the same scenario, Queensland and NSW clubs would also spend about one week in Melbourne to play two games on each Victorian road "swing".
The move would help save travel costs as the league desperately tries to save money in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
All AFL players who enter Queensland will be required to have a flu vaccination, in line with state government requirements.
Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast Suns players will all have the injections.
WA Premier Mark McGowan said the State Government was "working through" how to allow the Eagles and Dockers to resume training at full capacity in Perth.
Asked if he thought if any AFL matches would be played in Perth this season, Mr McGowan replied: "I would expect so, but how many I don't know".
"I would expect there would be some because there clearly has got to be a derby and hopefully some teams will come over here, do the quarantine here and then play some games in Western Australia," McGowan said.
"But they have got to do the quarantine here, we can't allow them to have exemptions when other industries don't."
Coast to coast: Eagles consider radical relocation
West Coast and Fremantle players have voiced their issues about a prolonged stay in east-coast hubs in a zoom conference with the AFLPA this afternoon.
West Coast confirmed on Wednesday the club was seriously considering relocating to the Gold Coast to train and then play if WA borders remained in lockdown for coming months.
The WA-based sides could take over a Gold Coast resort and enjoy excellent weather while also playing at a more neutral venue than tackling Melbourne sides on the MCG.
But while many West Coast and Fremantle players would be happy to remain in a hub in the early rounds of the season, there are serious concerns from some players with young families.
Some players have suggested to their managers that the league should postpone the season for several weeks if it allowed border restrictions to be eased and footy to eventually be played in West Australia.
Players across the league conducted Zoom hook-ups with the AFLPA on Wednesday, and while there were many questions lodged it is understood the player union was still awaiting clarity around hubs and biosecurity measures from the AFL.
Players will effectively be prevented from leaving their homes in the periods between coronavirus tests and playing games to reduce the risk of contacting COVID-19.
West Australian premier Mark McGowan remains steadfast that under current provisions it is not safe to allow AFL teams to fly into Perth to play at Optus Stadium given the risk of spreading coronavirus.
He says border controls are "the last thing to come down" despite the football season resuming as early as June 11.
It is understood the clubs are prepared to start training in groups of 10 on Monday despite five West Coast and 10 Fremantle players still quarantining until late next week.
Their broad expectation is that it is important to restart training as soon as possible, with those quarantining players allowed to train in pairs before filtering back into training when they finish quarantine.