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Super Rugby AU rule changes hoped to bring crowds back and change future of the game


It’s fair to say there will be many more eyes on Australia’s new domestic rugby competition when it kicks off this weekend than just those of the diehard fans.

Super Rugby AU is Australia’s equivalent of New Zealand’s Super Rugby Aotearoa, and was quickly formed to fill the breach left by the 15-team, five-nations Super Rugby tournament which went into COVID-19-enforced hibernation in mid-March.

The future of that competition remains in limbo, with both South Africa and Argentina isolated and their new case curve still trending upwards. Japan’s Sunwolves were to be mothballed at the end of the 2020 season anyway, and though there were attempts to have them play in the new Australian competition, they’ve now played their last game.

Australia’s four Super Rugby sides — the Queensland Reds, NSW Waratahs, Melbourne Rebels, and the Brumbies — will be joined by the Perth-based Western Force in a full home-and-away competition played over 10 weeks plus two weeks of finals.

For the Force, it marks their return to top-flight Australian rugby for the first time since their axing from Super Rugby at the end of the 2017 season.

Western Force players wait for a try decision during the World Series Rugby match against Fiji in 2018.
The Western Force will be welcomed back to the fold.(AAP: Richard Wainwright)

But it’s the law variations in place that will draw the extra attention, and from the moment the Reds and Waratahs run out onto Brisbane’s Lang Park on Friday night. Behind every one of the changes is an intention to make a more enjoyable spectacle of the game for spectators, fans and players alike.

A couple are already in place over the ditch, with Super Rugby Aotearoa implementing 10 minutes of “golden point” extra time in the event of a scoreboard deadlock after 80 minutes.

The other is the allowance to replace a player sent from the field with a red card after 20 minutes. The sent-off player can’t play any further part in the game, but the contest can be restored to 15 players on 15, 20 minutes later.

Neither has been seen in New Zealand yet in three rounds, but Australia’s leading referee Angus Gardner is a fan.

“You definitely want the players to decide the game and as a ref you prefer to not make a decision that decides it,” he said last week, of the extra time allowance.

Gardner has been busy over the past fortnight, running live familiarity sessions around the new variations with the Waratahs and Rebels. The focus on the breakdown contest in Super Rugby Aotearoa — and the sharp upsurge in penalties — were a cause for concern initially, and were undoubtedly a reason Gardner and his colleagues were utilised during these intra-squad sessions around the country.

Ryan Louwrens holds a rugby ball in both hands and prepares to pass it away from a ruck
New rules around the breakdown have sped up play, but has also seen an initial uptick in penalties.(AAP: Scott Barbour)

“They’re really rewarding speed to the breakdown, I think for us that’s going to highlight our breakdown presence,” Rebels backrower Michael Wells said, his side spending this week of preparation in Canberra to escape the recent spike in COVID-19 infections in Melbourne.

“Attacking wise, you can’t be slow; you have to be really fast. Defensively, if you have a good on-ball presence you’re really going to get pay out of it. I think that was the biggest thing about having Gus [Gardner] here, just to be exposed to those new rules, because it’s different watching it in the New Zealand comp,” Wells said.

But the breakdown focus is having a positive impact already over the Tasman. In half a dozen games over the first three rounds in New Zealand, the rugby on display has been wonderful to watch, no doubt spurred on by huge crowds now allowed with no restrictions in place.

Fans applaud as players line up in the foreground
Super Rugby Aotearoa has returned to huge crowds.(Photosport via AP: Joe Allison)

The crowds will be much smaller when Super Rugby AU kicks off on Friday night, but it’s certainly hoped the rugby is no less exciting. Rugby Australia is also hoping the decision to go a bit further with law variations will have an impact, too.

Several of them roll over from last season’s National Rugby Championship, in which a rampant Western Force ran away with the title. The line drop-out allowance, which rewards the defending team if they’re able to hold the attacking team up in-goal, works as a faster way of restarting play instead of a five-metre scrum that risks multiple resets.

And 50-22 and 22-50 kicks carry over too, borrowing from rugby league’s 40-20, which will force teams to defend differently at the back, as well as open up attacking opportunity.

“Does that open up more space in the front line to play ball in hand?” Rebels attack coach Shaun Berne wondered.

“And if they don’t defend that back field, are we then able to kick and find those 50-22s?”

The players themselves can already see opportunities.

“It’s going to break some teams when we find that space and take those opportunities, it’s going to hurt a lot of teams,” Brumbies centre Irae Simone offered from Canberra.

Waratahs coach Rob Penney loves the removal of calling for a mark in the defensive 22 from kicks originating in the same portion of the field. But he’s equally wary of the architect of the idea.

“I am a bit worried about Matt Toomua and the impact that he is going to have. He is such a talented 10 and he has the ball on a string really,” Penney said of the Rebels and Wallabies flyhalf.

“I thought it was a real breath of fresh air to hear Matt talking about what could be really good for the game.”

A male rugby union player kicks the ball from a penalty goal attempt with his right foot.
Matt Toomua could have a huge impact with his boot under the new rules.(Reuters: Issei Kato)

As Rugby Australia works to negotiate its way to new TV deal for 2021 and beyond, the hope is that these variations and the exciting rugby it anticipates will result will be really good for the game over a longer term. Arguably, the future of the professional game is counting on it.

But the condensed campaign means there won’t be time for the five sides to work their way into contention. Most agree the Brumbies start overwhelming as the favourites, given they were running second overall when Super Rugby was suspended.

Brumbies prop James Slipper says that just means the side is already determined to pick up where they left off back in March.

“It’s always important to start well,” he said.

“We actually addressed that this year in Super Rugby and we did start well.

“What you find is when you have a good start is you try and build on that momentum and that winning habit.”

Super Rugby AU Round 1 fixtures

Friday: Queensland Reds vs NSW Waratahs, Brisbane 7:15pm AEST

Saturday: ACT Brumbies vs Melbourne Rebels, Canberra 7:15pm AEST

Western Force have the bye.



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AFL and NRL crowds are returning to stadiums, but putting more bums on seats is not so simple


In some states around Australia, life is slowly returning to normal.

Western Australia entered phase four restrictions last weekend and will lift restrictions almost entirely next month, paving the way for 60,000 fans to attend AFL matches at Perth Stadium.

It is a scenario that will draw jealous eyes from fans across the Nullarbor, where people are still unsure when they will be allowed to pack into sporting venues.

While the threat of coronavirus is currently all but non-existent in WA, it is still very much an issue on the east coast, and in Victoria’s case it is an escalating problem.

The afternoon sun hits the stands of an empty MCG stadium with players on the ground in silhouette.
There seems little prospect of seeing big crowds at the MCG anytime soon.(AAP: Michael Dodge)

But in other states, crowds are slowly dribbling back into venues — 6,000 people watched Port Adelaide beat West Coast on the Gold Coast on Saturday, while the SANFL kicked off with 5,000 fans at Adelaide Oval.

The challenge for venue operators as crowds begin to increase is to comply with relevant social distancing requirements inside their stadiums.

“When you’re up above 40,000 [seats], you’ve got more than 10,000 people going to a gathering, that has implications for the egress and access of and to those premises, public transport crushes, all those sorts of things,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in June, as the Federal Government outlined plans for large scale sporting events.

Tom Hickey of the Eagles competes with Scott Lycett of the Power.
Thousands of fans turned out on the Gold Coast to watch the Eagles take on the Power.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

Groups could maximise crowds

Analysis by the ABC suggests that for a full quarter of a 40,000-seat stadium to be filled, consideration must be given to seating groups of fans who have been isolating at home together, in order to maintain the social distancing requirements of 1.5 metres.

The general admission areas at Perth Stadium, to use that ground as an example, feature a seat distance of 50 centimetres across and 82.5cm deep.

For a single person to sit in the crowd, there would need to be a ring of seats around them.

At least one empty row of seats in front of and behind each fan would be required, along with three seats on each side across.

Football fans sitting apart from one another in a large stadium.
Analysis by the ABC suggests consideration must be given to seating groups of fans who have been isolating at home together.(Supplied)

In isolation, one fan would be allowed per 19-seat block — although in practise these dead seat zones would overlap.

Some of the most efficient forms of this type pattern allows for about 18.5 per cent of seats to be filled.

This would just meet the 10,000 person limit in the case of Perth Stadium, but be less than the aspirational 25 per cent target Mr Morrison articulated.

But football is about the sense of society and crowd, and sitting on your own makes that hard.

A solution is open box seating, where groups of people who have been spending the COVID-19 lockdown together sit together and distance themselves from other punters.

A graph showing the seat space required around a group of four people in a sporting stadium.
An open box configuration would be up to 7 per cent more efficient in putting bums on seats.(Supplied)

This form of seating is about 6 to 7 per cent more efficient based on a family of four, and will allow more people to attend AFL games when restrictions are relaxed.

If safely getting back to normal is a priority, a blend of these forms of seating may be required.

It will also allow the 25 per cent requirement articulated by the Federal Government to be met.

‘Protection of players paramount’

In Perth, where 30,000 fans are expected to attend Geelong’s clash with Collingwood the day before WA’s restrictions on gatherings are lifted, planning is underway on how to configure the ground.

Both Victorian sides will still be serving their 14-day quarantine period when the game begins.

Perth Stadium with the Swan River in the foreground.
Perth Stadium is planning to host 30,000 fans for the Collingwood versus Geelong match.(ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)

“The protection of the players is paramount,” Perth Stadium chief executive Mike McKenna told ABC Perth’s Sports Talk program.

“Areas like the locker room and the locker room suites, which have been a pretty important part of the experience for some, will be protected to ensure there is no interaction between those fans and the players.”

For fans, the experience will be slightly different.

No cash will be accepted at vendors, although there will be facilities allowing for the exchange of cash for vouchers to be spent in the venue.

Mr McKenna said the crowd would be spread out by seating them in every second row around the ground, which would likely require the entire venue to be in operation to reach half capacity.

Perth Stadium CEO Mike McKenna stands inside the venue, wearing glasses and a grey jacket.
Perth Stadium CEO Mike McKenna says the protection of players is paramount.(ABC News: Eliza Laschon)

“What we understand the protocols and the directions under the current phase we have just entered, is that the venue has a capacity limit by the two-square-metre rule,” he said.

“But the space inside isn’t really limited. Other than the one-metre distance people are recommended to keep, there is no specific requirement.

“We are doing our best to spread the fans around the stadium so we don’t actually end up with queues at bars, queues at toilets.”

NSW still under 25 per cent rule

Perth is at a totally different stage of easing restrictions than New South Wales, where venues are still limited by the 25 per cent capacity rule.

Despite this upper limit, only 487 people attended the GWS Giants’ match against Collingwood on Friday night, while last week 419 people were allowed into the NRL match between Cronulla and Canterbury.

In NSW, the NRL is planning on letting club members and season ticket holders attend matches from this weekend, as it slowly allows crowds to return in the state.

Siosifa Talakai of the Sharks in possession of the ball, being tackled.
More than 400 fans were allowed into the NRL match between Cronulla and Canterbury last week.(AAP: David Neilson)

“We have been working with the NSW Government and venue operators on a range of measures to keep crowds safe and healthy,” NRL acting chief executive Andrew Abdo said.

“Club members who live in NSW will be given priority at all games in the state.

“Members had a choice and they chose to stay loyal to their clubs. The return of crowds is about rewarding them for that loyalty and to say thank you.

“We are working on a range of measures to ensure only NSW residents can attend games in NSW.”

Host Queensland also limited

Queensland has hosted four interstate AFL sides plus its own football and rugby league teams, and had 10,000 tickets on sale for Brisbane’s NRL match with the Gold Coast Titans.

NRL Broncos Titans
Queensland had 10,000 tickets on sale for Brisbane’s NRL match with the Titans.(AAP: Dan Peled)

Lang Park has a capacity of 52,500 patrons but was limited by the Federal Government guidelines.

Fans were spread evenly around the lower level of the stadium, with security guards in the aisles to ensure social distancing restrictions were maintained.

Punters were then asked to leave the ground in sections to avoid a crush on gates and large gatherings of people.



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Frustration mounts as community sport still sidelined but football codes allowed crowds


There is growing frustration about “unfair” coronavirus restrictions being placed on children’s sport in Queensland.

From this weekend, up to 10,000 people will be allowed to gather in stadiums to cheer on their favourite football teams — about 25 per cent of the usual crowd capacity at Brisbane’s Lang Park and the Gabba.

But while footy fans will be able to enjoy more freedom, local sporting groups still are not allowed to play a game under Stage 2 restrictions, and training is limited to groups of 20 allowed on the field, including players, coaches and spectators.

Parents are also being asked to drop their children off at training and collect them after the session, or wait in their cars, in order to avoid breaching COVID-19 restrictions.

FNQ Football president Alex Srhoj said the ever-shifting goalposts for community sport was “frustrating”, particularly given other large crowd gatherings including mass protests.

“Sport plays a massive part in the community, particularly regional areas, it gives people an outlet, it’s important to get back to some level of normality and give the kids a chance to enjoy the sports that they all love,” Mr Srhoj said.

“The focus has gone to the loudest noise and that’s from people at the highest level wanting to watch their sport, and that’s fine, but it’s about time things start going back to normal in regards to community sport.”

Children playing soccer
FNQ Football president Alex Srhoj said the ever-shifting goalposts for community sport was “frustrating”.(ABC News: Jonathon Gul)

Hockey Queensland chief executive Alison Lyons said the rules regarding community sport since the coronavirus outbreak had often been “contradictory and confusing”.

“It’s been very challenging, trying to navigate all of the changes,” Ms Lyons said.

“Under Stage 2 restrictions, you are required to get in, train and get out.

“You are not lingering, loitering and we are not interacting with others that we may have done in the past.”

Sporting clubs across the state will be able to return to fixtures, under Stage 3 of the easing of coronavirus restrictions, from July 10.

The CEO of QSport, Queensland’s peak sporting body, Peter Cummiskey, said a return to big crowds at major sporting events was not comparable to community-sporting events.

“The NRL had to put in place strict and comprehensive protocols in order for that to happen, including the ability to be able to track and trace those attending through ticketing,” Mr Cummiskey said.



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Football stadiums in Queensland to welcome crowds again from this weekend, theme parks to open later this month


Up to 2,000 fans will be allowed to watch the football in stadiums in Queensland from this weekend.

Health Minister Steven Miles said the decision was the result of football codes submitting plans to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread.

“Some of the codes have requested this number [2,000] as a trial. That number might not be reached but it is an acknowledgement that the fans and the codes have done their part,” he said.

“We all want to get back to normal, that is the goal of our unite and recover plan.

“I’m proud the AFL and the NRL were able to return to play in Queensland stadiums.

“And today we add the missing ingredient — the fans.”

In the NRL, the Gold Coast Titans will play St George-Illawarra Dragons on Saturday at Lang Park.

Titans chief executive Steve Mitchell said a crowd rallying behind the team will help them win.

“The Titans are delighted to be the first Queensland team to be back playing in front of our supporters this weekend,” he said.

“There’s going to be a fair set of protocols when people come through. They’re in line with the protocols that have been developed with our biosecurity experts and the Chief Medical Officer in Queensland so everyone will be getting temperature checks and it’ll be great fun.”

In the AFL, the Brisbane Lions face off against the West Coast Eagles at the Gabba on Saturday evening, and the Suns take on Adelaide Crows at the Gold Coast’s Metricon Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

One new coronavirus case

The announcement came after the state recorded just one new coronavirus case in the past 24 hours.

A Gold Coast woman in her 30s, had returned from overseas and is in isolation in a hotel.

There are currently five active cases of COVID-19 in the state, with one in hospital.

Dreamworld sign on top of building of entrance of the theme park on Queensland's Gold Coast.
Dreamworld is waiting to get more information on Queensland’s border restrictions before announcing specific dates.(AAP)

Gold Coast theme parks to reopen

Village Roadshow has announced today that Sea World will reopen on June 26.

Movie World, Wet ‘n’ Wild and Outback Spectacular will follow in July.

As part of coronavirus restrictions, the theme parks are required to develop a COVID-safe plan for guests.

Village Roadshow said there will be more sanitisation measures in place and a requirement for guests to remain 1.5 metres apart.

Some shows will also be on hold and those that are open will have reduced capacity to maintain social distancing.

Guests will need to download the Village Roadshow app to book rides and show tickets to avoid human contact.

Ardent Leisure’s Dreamworld is waiting for more information on Queensland’s border restrictions before announcing specific dates.



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New Zealand hosts big crowds as Super Rugby Aotearoa gets off to thrilling start


Crowds have returned to New Zealand stadiums in earnest over the weekend, with packed houses watching the first two games of Super Rugby Aotearoa in Dunedin and Auckland.

Fans were permitted to attend, unrestricted, due to the New Zealand Government’s announcement on Monday that the country was coronavirus free, with the nationwide alert system relaxing to “level one” at midnight that day.

The Blues announced they had sold out Auckland’s Eden Park on Saturday.

As the Blues kicked off at Eden Park on Sunday, the commentator said the roar was akin to that of a Test match as fans revelled in the return of New Zealand’s national sport in its most populous city.

Fans were treated to a flyover by an air force plane before the match as the celebratory mood blossomed around the stadium.

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Pre-game ceremonies at both matches honoured essential workers.

At Eden Park over 43,000 fans, the biggest for a Blues Super Rugby match in 15 years, were in fine voice throughout, creating a carnival atmosphere in the ground.

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The majority went home happy as the Blues, buoyed by the optimism surrounding new signing All Black Beauden Barrett secured a 30-20 victory over the Wellington-based Hurricanes — Barrett’s former side.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, about 20,000 supporters roared on the Highlanders and Chiefs under the roof at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

The fans, including the raucous section of Otago University students standing behind the goal in a section known as ‘The Zoo’ were treated to a thrilling finish as the hosts stole a 28-27 win thanks to a last-minute drop-goal from Bryn Gatland.

That came just seconds after Damien McKenzie put the Chiefs ahead with a drop-goal of his own in a topsy-turvy match that featured five lead changes and a lot of penalties as players adapted to new refereeing interpretations at the breakdown.

Fans sit in a stadium and wave dark blue flags
Spectators were welcomed into stadiums in New Zealand with no restrictions.(Photosport via AP: Derek Morrison)

“I never imagined the game would be like this,” Highlanders captain Ash Dixon said.

“I think the game had everything and we were lucky to come out on the right side of the ledger.”

That was thanks to Gatland, who, playing just his first match for the Highlanders, was not expected to feature in the match, only being named on the bench late on Friday night when Josh Ioane broke down during the week.

What made the victory even more special for Gatland was that his father, British and Irish Lions coach Warren, was sitting in the opposition dugout.

Fans applaud as players line up in the foreground
Fans in Dunedin were treated to a classic, albeit one with lots of penalties.(Photosport via AP: Joe Allison)

“I’m not happy about the result,” Gatland senior said.

“But he showed a bit of calmness there, and he’s done that in the past and won games in clutch moments.”

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There was a mood of obvious celebration and relief as fans, deprived in lockdown of the shared experience of live sport, were able to return for the first time to a stadium in numbers limited only by the venue’s capacity.

There were no restrictions on their contact; they could hug, high-five, crowd in for selfies. There was no need for masks or social distancing. They could cheer as often and loudly as they wished and they did so enough to make the rafters ring at the indoor stadium.

“I’m so super excited,” one fan told AP before the game in Dunedin.

The Super Rugby Aotearoa competition is a 10-week competition featuring the five New Zealand Super Rugby teams, the Blues, the Chiefs, the Hurricanes, the Crusaders and the Highlanders.

Australia is hosting its own, five-team Super Rugby-branded tournament, featuring the Western Force, which will kick off on July 3 with the Queensland Reds hosting the New South Wales Waratahs.

Both competitions were set up as a temporary replacement for the international Super Rugby tournament, which was suspended in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

ABC/wires



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Coronavirus rules to be relaxed to bring big crowds back to stadiums, concerts, pubs, restaurants and other venues around Australia


Thousands of fans would be able to attend sporting events again and limits on the numbers of people in indoor venues would be scrapped under relaxations of coronavirus rules flagged on Friday.

Speaking after a National Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said states were working toward rules which would let stadiums capable of seating up to 40,000 people host crowds of up to 10,000

He said states and territories were on track to implement the changes in July.

The changes would apply to events like sporting matches, concerts and festivals, though venues would only be able to seat 25 per cent of their capacity.

“It would have to be a large, open area. There would need to be seats at the appropriate distance. It would need to be ticketed, so people would be able to understand who was in attendance at that event,” Mr Morrison said.

Mr Morrison said venues with capacities of more than 40,000 people could be allowed to fill a quarter of their seats, but said the details of that were still being worked out in conjunction with chief health officers around the country.

A crowd of Geelong Cats fans in a stadium grandstand, wearing blue and white, holding banners and shaking oversized pom poms.
Fans could be back at footy games under the new rules.(AAP: Julian Smith)

“When you’re up above 40,000, you’ve got more than 10,000 people going to a gathering, that has implications for the egress and access of and to those premises, public transport crushes, all those sorts of things,” he said.

“That will require much more significant work.”

Outdoor festivals will be allowed, but they will need to offer seating to patrons.

“If we’re talking about large folk festivals where people roam around from tent to tent, and gathering to gathering, that is not something that is being talked about here,” Mr Morrison said.

The changes will be implemented as states move to ease restrictions at their own pace.

Friday’s National Cabinet meeting heard that all states and territories were on track to complete the move to the new stage three restrictions next month.

Protests condemned despite new crowd rules

A limit of 100 people on indoor gatherings will also be scrapped, with no limit on numbers, but a requirement that venues allow for four square metres of space per person.

Mr Morrison said that would allow for weddings, funerals and other indoor events to only be limited by the size of their venue, but said nightclubs would remain shut.

Thousands of demonstrators flocked to Sydney's CBD to protest racial injustice at the Black Lives Matter rally. June 6, 2020.
The risk of coronavirus at protests remains too great, authorities say.(ABC News: Jack Fisher)

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said even though governments around Australia would soon move to allow stadiums to reopen and allow socially-distant crowds to gather, it was not acceptable for protesters to flout health restrictions.

“Events where you have a large number of people who don’t know each other, and who we can’t contact-trace easily or track, are one of the highest-risk events,” he said.

“These sort of events really are dangerous.”

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated against Indigenous deaths in custody last weekend, and one person has since tested positive for COVID-19.

“We saw in Victoria that one of the people who was at the event potentially could have been infectious,” Professor Murphy said.

“We won’t know for another week or so whether that has led to any spike in cases in that state.”



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Crowds allowed for AFL Showdown but not second Adelaide Black Lives Matter protest


South Australian police say they will not provide an exemption for crowds to attend a second Black Lives Matter protest in Adelaide, despite relaxing coronavirus restrictions for a crowd of more than 2,000 people to attend the AFL on Saturday night.

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said 2,000 people would be permitted to attend the Adelaide Oval’s public areas for the Showdown between Port Adelaide and the Adelaide Crows.

A further 240 people will be allowed in private rooms around the stadium.

It will be the first AFL match to have crowds this year, after round one went ahead in March in front of empty stands.

The commissioner said Adelaide Oval had a “comprehensive plan” which safely managed the movement of people.

“[The decision] was also taken on the back of the fact that we had a significant number of people in Victoria Square on the weekend for a protest activity and that was conducted in a relatively safe manner,” he said.

Mr Stevens defended his decision to permit thousands of protesters to attend a Black Lives Matter rally in Victoria Square on Saturday, saying the protest would have gone ahead with or without permission.

About 6,000 people attended the protest on Saturday.

Adelaide Oval Showdown 36
Stands will be less full for this Saturday’s Showdown at Adelaide Oval.(ABC Local Radio: Brett Williamson)

Mr Stevens described the protest as a “one-off”, warning protesters there would be no exemptions allowed in the event another rally is organised.

“We acknowledged the unique and exceptional circumstances of the protest we saw on Saturday and the public sentiment we saw around the horrific events in the United States and it was appropriate that we gave consideration to that,” he said.

It has been two weeks since the last positive coronavirus case in South Australia.

More detail on next stage coming soon

Premier Steven Marshall said Adelaide would be the first place in the country with a significant crowd at an AFL match.

“I know sporting fans will be very grateful for that,” Mr Marshall said.

Port Adelaide Football Club chief executive Keith Thomas said 1,475 would be allocated to his club’s members, 475 to Adelaide Crows members and the remaining 50 to Adelaide Oval members.

“We will allocate the 1,475 tickets amongst our membership base via a ballot system,” he said.

About 500 people will be allowed at SANFL matches when the season resumes.

Mr Marshall said more detail about stage three of easing coronavirus restrictions would be provided after a second meeting of the State Government’s COVID–19 transition committee on Friday.

This would include the starting date for stage three, relaxing state border restrictions and more detail about larger venues, including churches.

Mr Stevens today conceded there were “tensions” within the state’s coronavirus transition committee — but insisted that the tensions were constructive.

“There are … healthy, responsible tensions because we are talking about very difficult challenges,” he said.

“We need that tension in order to come to sound decisions because we have people who look at things from different perspectives.”

A woman and a man raise their fists towards the air, shouting, as part of a crowd waving placards and Aboriginal flags
Protesters march along King William Street in the Black Lives Matter rally in Adelaide.(AAP: Morgan Sette)

Protest organisers hopeful of meeting

The organisers of last Saturday’s Black Lives Matter protest had wanted to hold a second event this Saturday in Victoria Square, and regularly after that, although not necessarily weekly.

Janette Milera, the state founder of SOS Blak Australia, said one of the main goals of the protests was to highlight the issue of Aboriginal deaths in custody.

The Premier at today’s press conference said he was happy to meet with the rally organisers.

“It looks like the rally’s achieved what it wanted to,” Ms Milera said.

Ms Milera said the group wanted the 339 recommendations the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths Custody made in 1991 to be implemented.

They would also like a new inquiry into South Australian Aboriginal deaths in custody.



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AFL plans to sacrifice cash for return of crowds in limited capacity



AFL boss Gillon McLachlan says the league will cop further financial pain if it means passionate supporters are allowed back into games sooner.

It comes as Nine reports Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has given the all-clear for stadiums in the Sunshine State to be at 25 per cent capacity as soon as this weekend.

Opening up grounds to a limited amount of people will not be profitable, but McLachlan is not fazed despite the COVID-19 pandemic already bringing about the biggest financial crisis in the league’s history.

“I think most of the crowds in the smaller numbers are going to be uneconomical,” McLachlan told Fox Footy.

“But our members and supporters have been unbelievable and are in the process of getting clubs through [this crisis].

“It’s not an economic decision to be opening up the venues. It’s actually about the core of the game and the heartbeat of it, which is our supporters and members.”

GWS have been pushing to allow corporate guests into this Sunday’s match against North Melbourne.

But McLachlan said when crowds were back at games it would not just involve people paying large amounts of money for the experience.

“Whenever it plays out, there will be a balance of members and supporters as much as corporates,” he said.

McLachlan is also growing increasingly confident that Victorian games will not be played behind closed doors for the entire season despite infection rates there remaining higher than in most other states.

On Saturday, McLachlan declared he was hopeful of having a capacity crowd at this year’s grand final at the MCG.

“At some point, there’s going to be members and supporters going to the footy in Victoria,” he said.

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NZ Super Rugby to welcome crowds back immediately following ending of domestic coronavirus restrictions



New Zealand’s Super Rugby competition will kick off its opening round in front of crowds this weekend, generating further hype about the sport’s return.

The NZ government announced its nationwide alert system would relax to “level one” at midnight on Monday, allowing mass gatherings to take place.

With no restrictions on crowd size, there is the possibility of sold-out grandstands when the Highlanders host the Chiefs in Dunedin on Saturday and the Blues face the Hurricanes at Eden Park on Sunday in the first round of Super Rugby Aotearoa matches.

The competition has been set up as a temporary replacement for the international Super Rugby tournament, which is suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Already acknowledged as the first professional rugby competition to be staged in the COVID-19 era, the competition is very nearly the first in any sport to allow game-day supporters.

It was beaten by Vietnamese soccer, where the professional V.League welcomed fans for the first time last Friday.

Top-level sport in Australia is experiencing a staggered return, with the NRL two weeks in to it’s post-COVID season and the AFL recommencing this weekend.

Fans are set to be allowed to attend NRL games in small groups from next week, after the league reached an agreement with the New South Wales Government.

Groups of up to 50 will be allowed in corporate boxes in NSW stadiums, adhering to the rules around having one person per four square metres.

The NRL and stadiums are continuing to map out their plans for a return of crowds.

AFL boss Gillon McLachlan has said the league had an “80-per-cent finalised” plan for crowds to return to the game, which would implement measures such as fans having their temperature taken on entry to the ground.

Interim Rugby Australia CEO Rob Clark said his organisation’s top priority was to have matches played again in Australia as soon as possible, with a five-team domestic Super Rugby tournament set to begin next month, pending approval from broadcasters.

NZ Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson confirmed tickets for Super Rugby Aotearoa would go on sale today.

“It is a testament to all New Zealanders that we are in a position to lift restrictions on mass gatherings,” Robinson said.

Kick-off times for the games have been shifted, making them more palatable for fans who are also on the verge of returning to playing community sport.

Games will start at 7.05pm on Saturday and 3.35pm on Sunday throughout the 10-week competition, which involves the five Kiwi Super Rugby teams.

Teams will also be able to prepare normally rather than fly-in and out on match day, as had been planned.

Highlanders Chief Executive Roger Clark said it would be an “honour” to host the first professional rugby game anywhere since the sporting world shut down in March.

He said fans would be encouraged to adhere to contact tracing methods.

“Our players, coaches and staff have been working overtime to get Super Rugby Aotearoa ready and to now be able to share the competition with our members and our fans will be a very special occasion.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has previously said the government would work with stadiums to create a “COVID code” to ensure contact tracing was in place in case sports fans tested positive for the coronavirus.

The country has reached 17 successive days with no new cases of the virus detected and there are no active cases.

ABC/AAP



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NRL games in NSW to allow small crowds after agreement with State Government



Fans are set to be allowed to attend NRL games in small groups from next week, after the league reached an agreement with the New South Wales Government.

Groups of up to 50 will be allowed in corporate boxes in NSW stadiums, adhering to the rules around having one person per four square metres.

There was initially a plan to have crowds back by July 1, but ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys argued the reopening of pubs and bars in the state meant fans should be allowed back into stadiums in limited numbers.

“We’re very pleased the Government have corrected the anomaly, because this was allowed in pubs, clubs and racecourses but not sports stadiums,” V’landys told AAP.

The first game of round five is a Manly-Broncos clash at Central Coast Stadium in Gosford, which is now expected to be the first game to allow fans under the new socially distanced measures.

While the new measures will allow club sponsors to return to games, V’landys is reportedly still hopeful of getting club members back in the grounds in July.

Venues such as Parramatta Stadium have multiple boxes and lounges that can be split into different sections on top of their corporate boxes, meaning the number of attendees could climb much higher.

The news comes as a big win for struggling clubs, who are doing their utmost to fulfil sponsorship deals through the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, the NRL and stadiums are continuing to map out their plans for a return to crowds.

Work has already been done at Parramatta Stadium on traffic flow with the entry and exit points of the ground.

A ticketing system is planned to ensure fans are spaced out appropriately between seats.

ABC/AAP



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