Australia

Australia divided over fake crowd noise as NRL resumes in empty stadiums

General view of play during the Round 3 NRL match between the Brisbane Broncos and the Parramatta Eels at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Thursday, May 28, 2020 Source: AAP

The NRL became the first professional sporting competition in Australia to restart when the Broncos and Eels faced off in Brisbane on Thursday night.

Elite sport in Australia made its return on Thursday night with the resumption of the NRL season.

The Parramatta Eels defeated the Brisbane Broncos 34-6 at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium in the first elite sporting match of any code since coronavirus lockdown measures were put in place in March.

But with no fans inside the stadium and broadcasters playing virtual crowd noises, it created an atmosphere that divided people on social media.

The NRL is resuming three weeks earlier than other domestic competitions, with the AFL not set to start until 11 June and the A-League yet to announce a return date.

Australian Rugby League Commission Chair Peter V’landys raised eyebrows in early April when he said the NRL would resume in late May.

The competition was given the green light for a return by state officials in NSW, Victoria and Queensland on 1 May on the condition it followed strict social distancing protocols and players were regularly tested for COVID-19.

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Players were also forced to get influenza vaccinations, with players who refused unable to play unless they were granted a medical exemption from their doctor.

NRL teams will now take part in a heavily-revised season, with the competition reduced to 20 rounds from the usual 25 and each match taking part at one of six centralised venues. 

The venues – Suncorp Stadium, Bankwest Stadium in Parramatta, Campbelltown Stadium, Gosford’s Central Coast Stadium, Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville, and AAMI Park in Melbourne – were chosen by the ARLC as they best met biosecurity protocols and geographical requirements.

Brisbane Broncos
The stands were empty at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium as the NRL restarted its season with a clash between the Broncos and Eels
AAP

International travel restrictions have created several headaches for the Auckland-based New Zealand Warriors, who have been forced to move to a temporary home at Gosford in NSW.

While matches will be played without crowds for the foreseeable future, V’landys has expressed a desire to have state and federal governments open the gates to fans by 1 July. 

However, the idea has been opposed by NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian.

"A lot of people are looking forward (to NRL being back on TV). I'm glad it gives some normality back to NSW," she said on Thursday. "(But) I can't see (crowds returning) by that date." 

Ms Berejikilian's comments came after Australian Medical Association president Dr Tony Bartone described the NRL's push to have crowds by the start of July as "absurd and dangerous".

Dr Tony Bartone
Australian Medical Association president Dr Tony Bartone
AAP

“Put bluntly, this absurd and dangerous idea belongs in the sin bin,” Dr Bartone said in a statement.

“The NRL should be satisfied that it has its competition back in action, but it is unfair and unwise to put the health of the game's fans at risk.

“They must first monitor the health and safety of the players and officials who will be involved in the thick of the on-field action.

“Australians have done exceptionally well in flattening the COVID-19 curve, and we are not too far away from relaxing more restrictions.”

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits. Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia.

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

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