Sport-Aussie Rules teams flee COVID outbreaks, rugby league crowds banned

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MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Four Australian Football League (AFL) teams are set to base themselves in Melbourne as COVID-19 outbreaks and lockdowns across the country play havoc with the competition's schedule.

The Gold Coast Suns and Brisbane Lions were booked on a charter plane for Melbourne to beat a snap three-day lockdown starting late on Tuesday in Brisbane and surrounds.

Perth-based teams Fremantle Dockers and West Coast Eagles are also heading to Melbourne after authorities in Western Australia state locked down Perth after new cases of COVID-19.

"There's an element of 'plan for the worst and hope for the best,'" Fremantle boss Simon Garlick said.

AFL stronghold Melbourne has become an unlikely bolthole for the top flight of Australian Rules football, a year after the southern city was locked down for more than five months and forced to give up the season-ending 'Grand Final' to Brisbane.

The AFL moved Sydney teams' matches to Melbourne last week after authorities locked down Australia's largest city for two weeks.

The National Rugby League (NRL) on Tuesday ordered teams to return to its strictest biosecurity level, meaning players and staff must stay at home unless training, playing or completing essential household tasks.

"It’s clear the virus is spreading quickly and these measures provide an additional safeguard to ensure the competition can continue," NRL boss Andrew Abdo said.

The NRL's Sydney-based teams will remain in the locked-down city but fans will be banned from attending the weekend's matches.

Australian Rugby League Commission Chairman Peter V'landys said organisers were looking at shifting subsequent NRL matches from Sydney to regional areas depending on the COVID situation.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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