Australia’s NBL to consider off-shore bubble in New Zealand

SYDNEY (AP) — Australia’s National Basketball League is considering a COVID-19-safe off-shore hub in New Zealand to get its delayed season going this year.

The idea floated by the New Zealand Breakers last week is one of the options being considered by the NBL’s return to competition taskforce, which is aiming to start the league in December.

“We’re exploring all the different venue issues … there’s the total hub model and something we need to consider if things get worse or stay as they are,” league owner Larry Kestelman was quoted to say Tuesday by Australian Associated Press. “We’re also working on a flexible model … to move clubs around.”

The NBL’s taskforce is monitoring the NBA’s bubble model in Florida, where there are no fans in the stands and games are played at the Walt Disney World resort near Orlando, and the various bio-security plans established in Australia to get other other sports going.

New Zealand has gone more than 100 days without a new coronavirus infection and domestic restrictions have been lifted, meaning sports such as rugby have already benefited from big crowds.

In Australia, the National Rugby League, Super Rugby, the Australian Football League and the national leagues for soccer and netball have resumed during the pandemic and all with different models to safeguard player and public health.

Because of a second wave of coronavirus infections in Victoria state, most of the AFL clubs from Melbourne have been temporarily re-located to a so-called bio-secure bubble in Queensland state. All clubs and games in the Super Netball league are in around the Queensland state capital.

In the National Rugby League, the New Zealand Warriors have been living and playing under isolation protocols in Australia since starting a quarantine period in late May.

Basketball is in a pro-longed off-season Down Under, but training for the Melbourne-based NBL clubs was shuttered recently when 12 players from Melbourne United returned positive tests for COVID-19. That prompted Breakers owner Matt Walsh to push for a playing hub in New Zealand. The Breakers are the only foreign club in the nine-team Australian league.

Kestelman said the league’s taskforce needed to manage border and travel restrictions and meet the required health and safety protocols of governments to ensure the competition could get underway and be played in front of fans.

“Playing as many games in front of fans remains a priority,” he said. “They are the lifeblood of our clubs and we will do all that is possible to deliver a season that allows them to be part of it.”

The Perth Wildcards were declared NBL champions last season, two days after the last two games of the finals series were canceled in March because the Sydney Kings refused to travel to Western Australia amid the pandemic.

Perth was leading the best-of-five game series 2-1 and was set to play at home.

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