MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Professional sports clubs in Australia’s southern state of Victoria will be able to resume training on Wednesday, removing a barrier to the restart of national leagues suspended due to the novel coronavirus.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said clubs would be allowed to train in closed sessions as part of an easing of the state’s social distancing restrictions announced on Monday.
“We have agreed to a set of arrangements to allow training for AFL, for rugby league, other professional sports, to resume from just before midnight tomorrow night,” Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.
“Of course, with that happening, once training is up and running again, that paves the way for the AFL (Australian Football League) and other codes to make announcements.
“I think we all want that provided it is safe, appropriate and can be done in a cautious way. I’m confident it can be.”
Victoria is home to 10 AFL teams in the top-flight Australian Rules football competition, along with National Rugby League (NRL) side Melbourne Storm and three professional soccer teams in the A-League.
All three football codes were suspended in March when travel restrictions to contain the novel coronavirus made their competitions untenable.
The NRL plans to restart on May 28 having secured approval from the states of New South Wales and Queensland, where most of the teams are based, to train, travel and host games.
The AFL has not announced any restart date but hopes to resume in June, while the A-League is looking to wrap up its championship by August after play was suspended with five rounds of the regular season and the playoffs left to complete.
Australia, which has recorded 97 deaths and less than 7,000 COVID-19 cases, has gradually eased social restrictions in recent weeks after infection rates plunged.
The AFL, the most popular winter sport in southern states, has limited training to groups of two at its 18 clubs across the country to protect the integrity of the competition amid conflicting social restrictions at state-level.
The Adelaide Crows fell foul of the rule last week when 16 players trained while in quarantine at a rural golf resort.
The AFL said on Monday it had banned assistant coach Ben Hart from “Crows facilities” until June 22 and issued suspended one-match bans to the players for the breach, which was deemed “inadvertent and not done to create a competitive advantage”.
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford
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