AFL 2021 grand final to be played in Perth after MCG ruled out due to Covid-19

  • Optus Stadium confirmed to host premiership decider
  • Showpiece game moved for second straight year

The 2021 grand final will be played in Perth for the first time in AFL history after the game’s spiritual home, the MCG, was ruled out of hosting the showpiece game due to the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown in Victoria.

The AFL chief executive, Gillon McLachlan, and the Victorian sports minister, Martin Pakula, confirmed the switch at a press conference on Tuesday, after Optus Stadium had been officially named standby venue last week.

The league had made it clear it wanted to hold the premiership decider in front of fans, but with the lockdown in Melbourne extending beyond the initial 2 September deadline – and as Victoria recorded another 76 local cases on Tuesday – the MCG was no longer a viable option.

“It has become clear, as we continue to navigate through these challenges that it wouldn’t be in the best interests of the community to host a grand final at the MCG this year in front of a crowd,” McLachlan said.

The match in Perth will be held on Saturday 25 September, at a time still to be determined.

Pakula said the Victorian government had held off on making a decision as long as possible, to give Melbourne the best possible chance of hosting the grand final, but with the match now just three and a half weeks away, the AFL had reached a point where clarity and certainty on plans were required.

“It wouldn’t be responsible for us to risk the health of Victorians by rushing back to crowds at a point where it is not safe to do so,” Pakula said.

“It is a decision that is in the best interests of football. We would not seek to hold the AFL to the arrangement of holding a grand final to an empty stadium. It wouldn’t be right for the game, for the fans, and it isn’t something we were ever inclined to do.”

It is the second time in as many years the grand final has been moved from the MCG due to the pandemic after last season’s premiership decider was played at the Gabba in Queensland – the first time the game had been played outside the sport’s traditional home of Victoria and just the second time in the past 75 years a VFL/AFL grand final had been held anywhere but the MCG.

Before the official confirmation came, Victoria’s premier, Daniel Andrews, indicated he was reluctant to let the showpiece game leave its traditional home, but was willing for health experts to make the call.

“I know that finals footy and the grand final is a spiritual thing. It’s part of our soul as a city and state, but no football match is worth putting people in hospital, it just isn’t,” said Andrews.

“This is a global pandemic and we have to make decisions that are based on the very best evidence. I will leave it to others to make announcements about that event.”

Victorian AFL fans can expect some sort of compensation for missing out on the grand final for a second straight season – a year has been added to the agreement with the MCC, the guardians of the MCG, to extend the current deal to 2059.

McLachlan had a message to any Victorian AFL fans left disappointed by the decision.

“To all Victorians, we will be back at the MCG bigger and better in 2022,” he said. “You have stuck by our game all year, and I know how hard it has been, especially how challenging it has been for the community of football. It has been a tricky season, not only for the AFL, but for all your leagues.

“I want you to know that priority of the AFL to have you back up and running for next season as you have our support.”

But Victoria’s loss is Western Australia’s gain, and McLachlan thanked the state’s premier, Mark McGowan, and his government for stepping into the breach to play host.

“Western Australian footy fans are as passionate as any in the country and the stadium in Perth, with a capacity crowd of 60,000 in attendance, will be a great spectacle, not only for the city of Perth but for all footy fans around the world.”


Mike Hytner

The GuardianTramp

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