Sydney ready to steal AFL Grand Final off Melbourne
Sydney's ANZ Stadium has emerged as a shock contender to steal the AFL Grand Final from Melbourne.
As doubts grow over the MCG's ability to host a capacity crowd by October due to the worsening COVID-19 situation in Victoria, the Olympic Stadium is officially open for business again as an AFL venue.
Multiple NSW Government sources have confirmed they're excited by the prospect that one of Australia's highest profile sporting events could be moved and are understood to be open to an AFL approach.
News Corp Australia understands that high level conversations have taken place between AFL powerbrokers and ANZ Stadium officials in recent weeks to confirm the ground's availability to host big time AFL blockbusters once more, following the NSW Government's decision to abandon a $810 million plan to permanently transform it into a rectangle arena.
Optus Stadium in Perth, which will be able to accommodate 60,000 capacity crowds from July 18, has already launched its own audacious bid to poach the AFL Grand Final, in the wake of Melbourne's COVID-19 relapse.
But ANZ Stadium with its fully retractable seats makes it the largest oval stadium capable of hosting the AFL Grand Final, should the MCG only be allowed to host a fraction of the Olympic venue's 80,000 capacity.
As the 20th anniversary of the Sydney Olympics approaches, the Stadium which hosted it is privately keen to throw its hat in the ring for what would go down as one of the great sporting heists.
Officials were cautious about overtly declaring their interest given the delicate health situation in Melbourne, but Minister for Tourism Stuart Ayres said Sydney would be waiting in the wings.
"I expect the AFL Grand Final to be at the MCG as usual but if that's not possible I'm sure we could help them out and have it here in Sydney," said Ayres.
Acting Minister for Sport Geoff Lee said this week that a looming move to merge all NSW's major venues under the one roof was designed to best position the state to land "blockbuster" events.
ANZ Stadium - hasn't hosted a major AFL match since 2016, but is ready to go again this season with plenty of turf reserves built up with the lack of sport at the venue in recent months.
With ANZ Stadium looming as the likely new home for the NRL Grand Final on October 25, ground officials would face a race against time if they secured the AFL Grand Final as well, given it's likely to be scheduled for the Saturday of the same weekend. However, ANZ turned around an AFL preliminary final for an NRL prelim back in 2012.
Collingwood Premiership great Tony Shaw said that Victoria had to get over its parochial bias and called on the AFL to consider alternatives to the MCG should the escalating COVID-19 situation continue to worsen and threaten Melbourne's ability to cater to its fans.
"I think it's quite logical that we look to other venues," Shaw said.
"I'm a traditionalist at heart. I'm a day Grand Final, MCG (Grand Final) every time of the week. But I think it's logical that we do look elsewhere.
"The capabilities of letting 60,000 people - whether they are West Australians, or South Australians or whatever - watching our Grand Final live, I think we have got to go with it.
"I have got no worries at all (about moving it). I think it's quite logical and it could be only a once offer, but if it was to be successful you never know what is going to happen down the track.
"I hope that doesn't happen, but for this year I think you have got to investigate it.
"We've got to get over that parochial situation as Victorians."
MCC chief executive Stuart Fox said the venue would be fully prepared to host "tens of thousands" of fans for the Grand Final pending State Government approval.
But the AFL would be under immense pressure to put the best interests of the game first.
"We will be guided as always by the State Government and the necessary medical experts to ensure the health of the general public is the absolute priority," Fox said.
"… There are several scenarios that could cater for tens of thousands of fans in a manner that is safe for everyone.
"But certainly we have had no discussions with the AFL about moving the Grand Final."
Originally published as Sydney ready to steal AFL Grand Final off Melbourne