MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Hopes of a world record stadium attendance for a sporting event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic were dashed on Thursday when 51,723 fans turned out at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for an Australian Rules match between Carlton and Collingwood.
Authorities in Australia's southern state of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, on Tuesday lifted a cap on crowds at sporting events to 75% from 50% of stadium capacity after declaring the state officially COVID-free.
That would have allowed a maximum of 75,000 fans, without masks, to pack the 100,000-seater MCG for the Carlton Blues match against the Collingwood Magpies, one of Australian sport's oldest and fiercest rivalries.
The crowd was the biggest for a sporting fixture in the southern hemisphere since the shutdown of sport caused by the pandemic last year, bettering the 49,218 who turned out at the MCG last week for Carlton's match against Richmond.
It was, however, well short of the 67,200 and 66,352 fans the first two Twenty20 cricket matches between India and England attracted to the 132,000-capacity Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad earlier this month.
The Australian Football League (AFL) will be confident of surpassing those marks with a match at the MCG before too long.
The AFL is one of the best supported leagues in the world with crowds averaging 35,108 per match in 2019, lagging behind only North America's National Football League and the German and English top-flight soccer leagues.
The MCG hosted 86,174 fans at the Women's T20 World Cup final between Australia and India on March 8, 2020 before social distancing rules banned mass gatherings for several months.
Crowds at sporting events returned in Australia from mid-2020 as COVID-19 was brought under control but authorities remain reluctant to allow stadiums to return to maximum capacity.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom, additional reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, Editing by Toby Davis)