The ACT government will use the Canberra Raiders and ACT Brumbies as "pilot" programs to test the safety large gatherings after granting both clubs approval to have crowds at home games next month.
The Raiders and Brumbies will share Canberra Stadium on back to back nights with up to 2000 fans expected to attend both games on July 3 and 4.
It will be the first time crowds of more than 100 can gather in the same place since mid-March, with the Raiders cleared by the NRL to return home and the Brumbies to start a new domestic competition.
If the crowd comeback is a success, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has flagged further easing of large-gathering restrictions for games at the end of July and in August.
The hope is the attendance numbers will soon be at the 6000 mark, about 25 per cent of the Canberra Stadium capacity, and even higher if there is no evidence of coronavirus infection.
Raiders and Brumbies officials met with ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman on Friday to discuss stadium configuration, fan access, food and beverage options and how to manage attendance numbers.
Some details are still being finalised, with coaches to move to different areas and the entire western side to be made a "clean zone" for players. The Brumbies will open a member ballot next week for their first home game against the Melbourne Rebels on July 4. A mix of fans and corporate backers will attend and fill the 1500 allocated spots.
The Raiders are expected to detail their plan next week after evaluating restrictions.
"We're looking forward to getting fans back in for the first game ... hopefully over the coming weeks and months we will be able to increase that number as protocols and guidelines are changed," said Brumbies boss Phil Thomson.
"There's a lot of work to be done over the next week about exact numbers and finalising some protocols. Our members have been very supportive during this time. We've tried to stay connected with them and they've been positive through these difficult times. Now we can get games back on, it's a good reward and thank you for the people who have stuck by us."
The ACT government is in talks with the GWS Giants about bringing up to two AFL games to Manuka Oval this season, with a match fee payment to be scaled back in line with the amount of spectators allowed into the venue.
The bulk of members of both clubs have decided to stick by their teams rather than requesting refunds. The Raiders have given members options to donate this year's fees, get vouchers for the Raiders' shop or roll them over for 2021.
The Raiders have been playing home games at Campbelltown as per an NRL directive to use just six venues in the opening rounds of the competition. The NRL changed those regulations on Friday night, announcing all clubs will be eligible to return to their home venues from the start of July.
The Brumbies won three of four games in Canberra to start the Super Rugby season, but haven't played at all since the competition was stopped on March 15.
Spectators may be able to order food and beverages to be delivered to their seats to avoid queuing at outlets. "If the pilot goes well, of course there will be more spectators who will be able to attend Canberra Stadium," ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said.
"On the rough guidelines that have been provided, 25 per cent of capacity at Canberra Stadium would allow us to move more towards 6000-6500 spectators in the coming rounds.
"The challenges are transport to the venue, getting in and out of Canberra Stadium, and the food and beverage offerings. The stadium will be working through those details with the Raiders and the Brumbies. We want this pilot to go well so we can scale it up for future rounds.
"With relatively small numbers, it might be possible to have an order and delivery to you in your seat service. The expectation is that people buy a ticket, they're allocated a seat and they stay in that seat. That's what makes it work.
"We hope if we can get this first weekend in July and it all goes well, that we can scale it up for those next games coming at the end of July and the end of August.
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"The ACT government has been very supportive of bringing those teams back to Canberra so the Raiders are no longer playing their home games up in Campbelltown."
The Raiders will travel by bus to and from Campbelltown on game day for their clash against Manly on Sunday afternoon. They had been using a chartered flight to get to games in western Sydney, but the players have voiced their preference to travel both legs via bus.
"It's come as really exciting news for us," Raiders coach Ricky Stuart said. "The boys have been handling it very well, we just take it as we need to, we plan for it and just make sure we don't make a big thing about it.
"We just do what we need to do and play the game. We're fortunate the game is back on, so there is definitely no negativity about it. But the fact we could be back here in a couple of weeks playing at home, it gives you a little bit more of a comfortable preparation in regards to not having to travel."
The Raiders are due to play in Sydney again next week, this time against the high-flying Parramatta Eels at Western Sydney Stadium.
Stuart says the club will make a decision early next week about flying to Sydney or taking a bus straight to the venue. "The boys probably enjoyed it more on the bus," Stuart said.
"We only had two and a half hours before we played, as opposed to the four hour period where you have the two in isolation before the change rooms.
"It'll be week to week because the three hours on the bus can wear you down. It's just making sure we don't plan too far ahead of ourselves."
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