The Northern Territory will become the first Australian state or territory to welcome back competitive football on Friday evening, with the territory’s Women’s and Men’s Premier League competitions set to return in Darwin.
Grassroots football was suspended on March 17 in the face of COVID-19 related restrictions but in light of the NT having effectively eliminated COVID-19 within its borders, football’s return was announced by Football Northern Territory (FNT).
Given the success of the state in suppressing COVID-19, the fixtures are also set to be played in front of fans with FNT to allow free entry – albeit with attendance capped at 500 to maintain social distancing requirements.
NT Yappas, Australia’s only indigenous women’s team playing in the Territory’s women’s top tier, and Hellenic Athletic, the reigning champions and premiers, will meet in the first of two games set to be staged at Darwin Football Stadium on Friday night, followed by Mindil Aces taking on Hellenic Athletic’s men.
“Many congratulations to Football Northern Territory and the NT Government for the close collaboration and the hard work that has enabled the return of football this weekend,” FFA CEO James Johnson said.
“As the most popular club-based participation sport in the country, football has an important role to play in the recovery of our nation post-coronavirus, and it’s great to see Football Northern Territory leading the way and kicking off the re-booted season in Australia.
“I wish everyone playing this weekend a safe and successful return to action, and I’m particularly looking forward to watching Friday night’s opening fixture between NT Yappas and Hellenic Athletic Women.”
To mark the return of football to the NT and Australia at large, both the men’s and women’s fixtures are set to be broadcast – for the first time – on SBS’ The World Game’s Website and the FFA’s YouTube, Facebook and Twitter accounts.
ABC Darwin’s Shannon Byrne and former Socceroo Craig Foster are set to feature on Yappas and Athletic’s contest, while Fox Sports’ Simon Hill and FNT Technical Director and former North Queensland Fury player John Tambouras will be behind the microphone for the clash between Aces and Athletic.
“Our clubs have been asked to strictly adhere to government advice and implement special guidelines for our community to follow and they have done an amazing job so far. We look forward to the next step on our journey to recovery when our clubs take to the field this Friday night,” FNT Chief Executive Bruce Stalder said.
“We met with the Chief Health Officer during the week and confirmed we were able to host a crowd of up to 500 spectators. All those attending will be reminded of the protocols required to adhere to social distancing requirements.
“We are extremely excited that for the first time, all of the games in the Men’s Premier League this season will be live streamed on the FNT Facebook page and YouTube Channel, showcasing our game and the Northern Territory to new audiences both in Australia and around the world.”
A further four matches, two men’s premier league and two women’s, will be played across the weekend.