Aussie Rules final in historic switch from virus-hit Melbourne


Melbourne (AFP)

The Australian Rules grand final will be played outside Melbourne for the first time as the city battles a major coronavirus outbreak, officials said Wednesday, with Brisbane hosting the showpiece match.

The season finale has been played in Melbourne since 1898, mostly at the imposing Melbourne Cricket Ground, where more than 100,000 flock to the game's spiritual home.

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said switching the match was "an extraordinarily difficult decision" but community safety was paramount.

"The 2020 AFL Grand Final will be played in Queensland... the Covid-19 pandemic has left a cloud over our community and our game," McLachlan told reporters.

"We are now looking forward to an exciting end to this incredible season."

McLachlan said the match would be played at Brisbane's Gabba ground on October 24 in front of about 30,000 people, with Adelaide Oval lined up as a contingency if there was a virus outbreak in Queensland.

The grand final is so embedded in Melbourne's psyche that in 2015 the Victorian state government declared the Friday before the match a public holiday.

But Victoria has been hit hard by a second wave of coronavirus infections that has seen a lockdowns and overnight curfews.

The state government has promised restrictions will ease later this month in Melbourne, a city of five million, but the changes will not allow it to hold a match on the scale of the grand final.

"The pandemic is a life-and-death battle and we cannot risk our hard-fought gains for the sake of rushing back to crowds before it is safe," Victorian sports minister Martin Pakula said in a statement.

State governments in Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales all pitched for hosting rights to the lucrative event.

"This has been a season like no other -- Queensland welcomed our game and we look forward to now working with the Queensland government to successfully stage the biggest event on the AFL calendar," McLachlan said, referring to the north-eastern state's hosting of games this season.

Melbourne markets itself as one of the world's sporting capitals and the fate of several big-ticket fixtures in Australia's second largest city is yet to be determined.

These include cricket's Boxing Day Test in December at the MCG -- this year featuring India -- and the Australian Open tennis Grand Slam in January.

Racing officials insist the Melbourne Cup will go ahead in November, but whether it has large crowds and a world-class field of imported thoroughbreds remains uncertain.

This year's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne was cancelled at the last minute in March as the virus emerged in the city.