Australia pushes NBL start back to January due to COVID-19

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The start of Australia’s top basketball league has been pushed back to January due to financial concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic, organisers said on Monday.

National Basketball League (NBL) Executive Chairman Larry Kestelman said the 2020/21 season would be delayed until at least mid-January to boost the chances of having crowds watch games and deliver a revenue boost.

The NBL, which usually starts in October, had previously delayed its season tip-off to December.

Australia’s professional sports competitions, including rugby league, soccer and Australian Rules football, resumed mid-year but caps on crowd sizes remain and teams are confined to biosecure hubs.

“We will remain flexible about the exact start date and this will depend on a number of factors including travel and border restrictions, community transmission numbers and availability at venues across Australia and New Zealand,” Kestelman said in a statement.

“As always, the health and safety of our players, staff and fans will be our number one priority.

“But we also remain focused on playing in front of fans as they are the lifeblood of the league.”

The league suffered a scare last month when 12 players from NBL club Melbourne United contracted the novel coronavirus.

Melbourne has been the epicentre of a second wave of infections that has put the southern state of Victoria in lockdown.

Kestelman said the NBL intended to play a full season and if needed would set up “one or more hubs” to achieve it.

The NBL called off its ‘Grand Final’ championship series between Sydney Kings and the Perth Wildcats in March after the Kings pulled out over health concerns due to the pandemic.

The Wildcats were subsequently awarded the championship.

Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford