This afternoon’s AFL Western Derby in Perth is being played in front of empty stands because of the city’s latest COVID-19 scare.
- Only essential staff and players will be allowed at Perth Stadium for the clash between West Coast and Fremantle
- Premier Mark McGowan said having 45,000 people in the stadium was “too much of a risk” after three new cases of COVID-19
- Fans who bought tickets will receive refunds from Ticketmaster
A week after fans were barred from attending a clash between the Dockers and North Melbourne at the same venue, Perth Stadium was set to be three-quarters full for the marquee match between West Coast and Fremantle.
But West Australian Premier Mark McGowan announced on Sunday morning that would no longer be the case.
The change comes after a hotel security guard and two of his close contacts tested positive to COVID-19.
“I understand people will be disappointed and some people will be frustrated,” Mr McGowan said.
“The decision has been made on health advice and we have tried to communicate this as quickly as possible.
The state government has opted against another snap lockdown, but Mr McGowan cautioned that “if we need to go back into lockdown we will”.
“That decision will be based on the latest health advice,” he told reporters.
West Coast chief executive Trevor Nisbett had already estimated that not having full capacity for the Eagles’ home game would cost the club about $500,000.
This is the first time a home and away match between the two West Australian rivals has been held without fans.
AFL stadium without fans is ‘a soulless place’
Perth Stadium chief executive Mike McKenna said he was disappointed but understood the circumstances.
He estimated the closure would cost the stadium and the clubs millions of dollars.
“It’s a soulless place, when you’re playing footy in front of an empty stand,” he said.
“We won’t get the benefit of the atmosphere these grounds create.”
Mr McKenna said he hoped crowds would return for next Sunday’s game between Fremantle and the Brisbane Lions at the stadium.
The AFL put out a statement confirming only essential staff and players were allowed at Perth Stadium, with staff and officials needing to wear masks.
The league said Ticketmaster would provide refunds for any fans who had bought tickets to the game.
The AFL has navigated the opening seven rounds of this season with limited coronavirus-related disruptions, although the Lions spent several rounds in Victoria because of a lockdown in their home city.
Another lockdown in Perth would affect the ease of interstate travel in the coming week, delivering a knock-on effect for the league.
The Eagles are slated to tackle Hawthorn at the MCG in round eight, while the Dockers host Brisbane in Perth.
North Melbourne returned home after their recent trip to Perth, but had to wait until Wednesday to get the green light to host Sunday’s clash with Melbourne in Hobart.