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NSW offers to host Australian Open as Melbourne battles COVID-19 spike

Tennis - Australian Open - Men's Singles Final
Tennis - Australian Open - Men's Singles Final
Ian Ransom

By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - New South Wales deputy premier John Barilaro says his state would be willing to act as a temporary host for major sports events such as the Australian Open tennis Grand Slam if they cannot be held in neighbouring Victoria due to COVID-19.

Barilaro told Australian radio on Friday he had written to sports bodies and officials in Victoria offering help to stage the events, which he said held national significance.

"Some of these events down in Victoria are national events hosted in Victoria," Barilaro told 2GB radio.

"It's important for the economy, important for the Australian psyche when it comes to sport.

"Absolutely we should be able to work with Victorians to find ways to make sure these all happen, these events are far too important in this crisis to not have."

Victoria is undergoing a second lockdown and has nearly 8,000 active COVID-19 cases, while NSW has about 800.

The Australian Open, which has been held in Melbourne since 1972, is due to start in January and Tennis Australia (TA) said organisers had not drawn up contingency plans for the tournament to be moved out of Victoria.

"Our focus is to get through the next few weeks and our team is in full planning mode to deliver a great Australian Open in Melbourne," TA Chief Executive Craig Tiley said in a statement emailed to Reuters on Friday.

"We obviously have great facilities in Melbourne and the AO is contracted and committed to Melbourne Park."

Melbourne is also home to the Australian Football League's title-deciding Grand Final, scheduled for October.

AFL Chief Executive Gillon McLachlan told reporters the Grand Final, which draws a capacity crowd to the 100,000-seat Melbourne Cricket Ground, was contracted to the stadium and it was "not appropriate" to look at alternative venues.

The state capital also hosts the Spring Racing Carnival, the country's biggest horse racing program, from October-November. Racing Victoria said in a statement it had no intention of relocating marquee races such as the Nov. 3 Melbourne Cup.

Victoria's sports minister did not provide immediate comment.


(Editing by Peter Rutherford)