The AFL in the coming weeks will decide to move the Grand Final away from Victoria and while it’s no surprise due to the current state of disaster, it doesn’t make the call any less momentous.
Football’s showpiece has only been played away from the Melbourne Cricket Ground once since 1945 and that was in 1991, when the Great Southern Stand’s construction saw the old VFL Park play host as Hawthorn beat West Coast.
In the aftermath of World War II in 1945, Princes Park hosted the Grand Final because the MCG was still being used by the military. Those were extraordinary times and so is the current predicament both the sport and wider community in general find themselves in, leading to the historic decision which the AFL faces in only a matter of days.
AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan has remained steadfast that the MCG is the host until it isn’t but once the official call is made at some point in August, the jostling and lobbying to host a once-in-a-generation event away from Victoria will begin in earnest.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk officially put Brisbane’s push to host the Grand Final on the agenda as early as July 15 once the Sunshine State became footy’s saviour and all Victorian clubs moved interstate.
There’s a number of important things to address before hosting rights are awarded to Queensland.
As it currently stands, there remains a cap on crowds attending matches at both the Gabba and Metricon Stadium with no real indication yet when it’ll be lifted. If fewer than 20,000 people could attend a Grand Final in Queensland, is it really worth it?
It’s the clear reason why Perth and the 60,000-seat Optus Stadium should be the frontrunner to host the event, even if strict biosecurity laws in Western Australia will need to be worked through. Victorian clubs being able to fly in and quarantine while playing in previous weeks means these challenges aren’t insurmountable.
WA Premier Mark McGowan is currently scheduled to lift all restrictions in the state other than their hard border on August 29 after pushing that date back as a result of Victoria’s second COVID-19 wave but unlike Queensland, there’s a clear public timeline as to when a full stadium can be guaranteed.
By the currently tentative Grand Final date of October 17 or 24, the state is highly likely to be able to welcome a full stadium once again, something which at this point Queensland can’t guarantee. And even if you pit a full Gabba up against a sold-out Optus Stadium, it’s the latter which wins out on almost every discernible measure.
This week Western Australia made their push to not only host this year’s Grand Final but the entire finals series, which is an ambitious proposal.
Queensland deserve to host multiple finals as a reward for effectively saving footy’s tumultuous 2020 season but for the showpiece event, Optus Stadium and its 60,000 capacity, and not the Gabba, is a venue befitting of the biggest game of the year.
For the AFL, which is spending millions of dollars on interstate hubs, the lure of a glittering end to the season out west and the associated revenue which would come with a full stadium and a full week build up in a football-mad state could be too tantalising of a proposition to resist.
Make no mistake about it, Queensland are current hot favourites to host the Grand Final for a reason – the state has effectively been the home of football in July and the AFL would feel they owe the State Government and indeed the wider footy public up north after their crucial role they’ve played this season.
But a twilight Grand Final at Optus Stadium in the middle of October, which would be beamed back into the eastern states at night in front of a full stadium, is clearly the best choice to bring the curtain down on the most chaotic of seasons.
Queensland will play a crucial role in both the finals series and hosting events such as the Brownlow Medal but for the biggest game of 2020, only the state which has all but publicly guaranteed a full stadium by October should be awarded hosting rights.