Australia set to allow 10,000-strong sporting crowds

Crowds of up to 10,000 are to be allowed back into Australian sports stadiums from July

Sydney (AFP) - Crowds of up 10,000 people will be allowed into Australian sports stadiums from next month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday, as COVID-19 restrictions are further relaxed.

The announcement comes a day before New Zealand prepares to welcome back fans at its Super Rugby Aotearoa tournament, which kicks off on Saturday.

Morrison said it would only apply to stadiums with a capacity of 40,000 or under, ruling out the likes of the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Adelaide Oval for now.

"We will be moving, as part of step 3, for events in stadia or other venues of that nature with a capacity of 40,000 or less to enable attendance at those events," he told reporters.

All patrons must be ticketed and seated with social distancing rules in place, and attendance will be limited to 25 percent of the venue's capacity.

"This is not something that's happening straight away," he added. "This is something that would be happening as part of step 3, where states and territories choose to move to that, and it will require a bit more work."

For now, bigger grounds will not qualify, given the difficulties around social distancing in larger crowds, particularly on public transport getting to and from venues.

But it opens the door for fans to cheer on their teams at mid-tier arenas, which could include Canberra Stadium and AAMI Park in Melbourne, which are both due to host Super Rugby games from July 3.

Spectators have been barred from Australian sporting events since mid-March when competitions ground to a halt as the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

But with COVID-19 now largely under control Down Under, rugby league and Australian Rules have resumed action, with cardboard cutouts in seats to make the grounds appear less empty and broadcasters piping in canned crowd noises.

While fans have so far been barred, just over 2,000 will be allowed in to watch a match between Adelaide's fierce AFL rivals Port and the Crows on Saturday.

It will be the biggest sports crowd in the country since the shutdown.

© Agence France-Presse