Melbourne Cricket Club boss Stuart Fox admits authorities will be “on tenterhooks” throughout the Boxing Day Test as fans make a long-awaited return to the MCG for the first time since March.
Up to 30,000 cricket fans will file into the famous venue on each day of the Australia-India series’ second match, which will put Victoria’s updated COVID-19 protocols for sporting events to the test.
The showpiece event comes 292 days since more than 86,000 fans packed the MCG for the Women’s T20 World Cup final – a drought brought about by Victoria’s mid-year coronavirus outbreak and lockdown period.
“This is Victoria’s first major event with significant crowds for some time, so let’s hope it’s the start of something special, but we all know we’re on tenterhooks at times here,” MCC CEO Fox said.
“We’ve seen what’s happened in other states and we’ve just got to be ready to move with the times.
“We’ve had 10 months of planning and there are a few subtle changes, but Victorians know the protocols around (being) COVID-safe now, so I think everyone will do the right thing.
“30,000 is not a huge crowd for us but I’m just so wrapped that we’re back.”
The Boxing Day Test crowd is being split into five zones to limit fans’ movement to specific areas of the MCG for contact tracing purposes.
The limit had originally been set at 25,000, but was raised earlier this month as Victoria’s run of days without a locally-acquired coronavirus case continued.
That streak has now reached 57 days.
Victoria’s Minister for Sport Martin Pakula on Saturday gave hope the attendance limit at sporting events could soon be lifted further beyond the current 30 per cent of a venue’s capacity.
“If we continue to maintain that COVID-free run and we continue to maintain those very low numbers and good testing numbers, then the opportunity exists for there to be higher crowds at future events,” Pakula said.
“This (Boxing Day Test) was always going to be the event where we were more on the conservative side when it comes to crowd numbers.
“We want to test the processes and it’s not just about the systems here at the ‘G; it’s about how people get in and out of the ground, public transport and all of that.”
The news comes with Melbourne still a chance to be given the third Test – scheduled to start on January 7 – if Cricket Australia decides to move it from Sydney amid the latest coronavirus outbreak.
Melbourne will also host Big Bash League matches later in January with the prospect of larger crowds, while the Australian Open, A-League and NBL will all feature in the city in the coming weeks.
Fox spoke to Cricket Australia boss Nick Hockley on Saturday morning and expects a decision on the third Test as soon as Sunday, with time running out for the governing body to make a call.
“I really do hope it gets away in Sydney but we’re on standby and we’re ready to go,” Fox said.
“There’s a few challenges with that but if we’re needed we’re ready.”