(Australian Associated Press)
Brisbana’s Gabba ground will host this year’s AFL grand final as the competition’s showpiece game leaves Victoria for the first time.
The premiership decider will be shifted from its usual afternoon time slot and be played under lights, with about 30,000 fans slated to attend the October 24 spectacle.
AFL chief executive Gillion McLachlan says moving the grand final was the “biggest decision of all” in a season disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The AFL Commission ruled on key criteria including safety, integrity of the competition, fan engagement, financial support for the game and long-term legacy.
“Not only has the Queensland government made it possible to hold the grand final but they want to ensure that it’s not just an event for Brisbane, but a festival of football for the state,” McLachlan told reporters on Wednesday.
Adelaide Oval is on standby to host the grand final, should a COVID-19 outbreak in Queensland impact the planned Gabba game.
The contingency planning also includes a plan to play the match in front of a reduced Gabba crowd, if required.
“It’s not something that we’re contemplating but I think it’s incumbent upon us to have that back-up plan,” McLachlan said.
The shift was forced by Victoria’s COVID-19 breakout putting that state into lockdown, ruling out the grand final’s traditional venue, the MCG.
The grand final has been played away from the MCG only once in the last 74 years, when Melbourne’s Waverley Park hosted the 1991 game because of MCG construction works.
State governments of Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales bid to host the match.
But Queensland was always in the box seat given the assistance the state has provided to the AFL to help keep the season afloat.
Queensland has hosted numerous clubs in hubs and the majority of home-and-away games have been played in the state.
The exact time slot is yet to be confirmed but will avoid a clash with horse racing’s Cox Plate and appeal to broadcasters, who expect a massive television audience in prime time.
Premiership contenders Port Adelaide and West Coast will be allowed to host lead-up finals at their regular home grounds.
However, the Eagles are restricted by WA’s hard border controls and will likely only be able to play at Optus Stadium if they earn the right to do so in week one.
Other clubs could also be allowed to choose to play lead-up finals away from the Gabba – either at Gold Coast’s Metricon Stadium or Adelaide Oval.