Some 50,000 fans will be able to attend sports events at Melbourne’s vast MCG from next month after state authorities eased capacity restrictions in arenas.

The Victorian State Government has endorsed 50% capacity at the 100,000-seat MCG and Marvel Stadium, where 29,000 fans can attend from March 4.

The MCG will stage Richmond’s 2021 Toyota AFL Premiership season opener against Carlton on March 18 with 50,000 fans able to attend – which will be the biggest attendance at an event in the Australian state of Victoria since last February.

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan welcomed the announcement and said it was great news for clubs and fans on the eve of the Australian Football League (AFL) season.

“Footy fans in Victoria have been excited about getting back to matches and we have seen that with great numbers across the opening rounds of the AFLW season,” McLachlan said.

“We haven’t had footy crowds this big in Victoria since the match to support Bushfire Relief in February last year, so today’s announcement provides a big boost for our players and fans in the leadup to the season.

“Our team has been working extensively behind the scenes planning for multiple scenarios and all our venues will be ready to welcome fans back into the stands come next month.”

The AFL said ticketing details will be issued in the coming days, with club members prioritised. To assist with contact tracing and appropriate social distancing, members will be required to redeem a digital ticket via agents.

The MCG said arrangements first seen at the 2020 Boxing Day Test, which welcomed 30,000 fans, will remain in place for the 2021 AFL Premiership Season. These include the stadium being sectioned into five zones to assist in capacity management and contact tracing. Only cashless transactions will be allowed, while the MCG’s Official Hygiene Partner, Dettol, has installed 275 instant hand sanitisation stations throughout the ground.

The Richmond-Carlton game will be the first crowd at an AFL championship match in Melbourne since the season-ending Grand Final in 2019. The 2020 season was played mainly in Australia’s eastern states due to a prolonged lockdown in Victoria, with the Grand Final played at Brisbane’s Gabba stadium in Queensland in front of 30,000 fans.

In other news, crowds of up to 50% capacity will be allowed at upcoming Pakistan Super League cricket games held in Karachi.

A decision on matches held in Lahore will be made in due course and will be dependent on how spectators follow COVID-19 regulations in Karachi. A strict ‘no mask, no entry’ policy will be enforced at stadiums.

Pakistan’s National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) had given the green light for 50% capacity for preliminary round matches and full-capacity crowds for the play-offs.

However, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has decided to opt for 50% crowds for all matches to maximise supporters’ health and safety.

The ruling will mean that around 19,000 fans can attend PSL games at Karachi’s National Stadium. Lahore is due to stage play-off matches next month.

Images: Alexander Sheko/Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)/ Edited for size