Western Australia will host the AFL Grand Final for the first time after the league moved its showpiece event to Perth’s Optus Stadium.
The match had been due to take place at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on September 25 but COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in the state of Victoria has left the stadium unable to host the event.
Optus Stadium will now host the event on September 25, albeit not at its traditional time of 2.30pm AEST due to the time difference in Perth.
Victoria has staged the AFL Grand Final for over 100 years but this will mark the second year in a row that it has not been able to host, with the AFL awarding the 2020 match to Brisbane’s Gabba stadium due to the COVID-19 situation in Victoria at the time. Last year was the first time the event had been held outside of Victoria.
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said last week that Optus Stadium would step in to host this year’s Grand Final if the MCG was unable to do so, and the decision was confirmed earlier today (Tuesday).
The AFL will send an operational staff of between 25 and 30 people to Perth to work with stakeholders and ensure the league puts on “an amazing spectacle” at Optus Stadium. McLachlan confirmed that the Grand Final would return to the MCG in 2022.
“As the pandemic continued to challenge us, we looked at all the possibilities around holding the 2021 Grand Final at the MCG,” he said.
“It has become clear as we continue to navigate through these challenges that it wouldn’t be in the best interests of the community to host a Grand Final at the MCG this year in front of a crowd. To all Victorians, we will be back at the MCG bigger and better in 2022.”
Optus Stadium chief executive Mike McKenna added: “First and foremost, our thoughts are with the people of Victoria and New South Wales who remain in lockdown.
“We know and understand the significance of this event to the Australian public and we will ensure we respect footballing traditions whilst sharing Perth and WA with the rest of the country.”
McLachlan said that the league would “work through” any potential lockdown in Western Australia between now and the Grand Final, adding that staging the match in front of no fans is not an option. Optus Stadium has said it can host 61,266 fans for the Grand Final.
Victorian Sports Minister Martin Pakula said that it wouldn’t have been responsible to rush crowds back for the Grand Final in Melbourne, adding that the contract to continue staging the match at the MCG has been extended by another year until 2059.
The AFL will also schedule an extra eight matches at the MCG across the next five seasons, from 2022 to 2026, and take more home-and-away games to regional Victoria during the AFL and AFL Women’s seasons.