When was the last time you were in a crowd? A demonstration? Before the pandemic? For almost 50,000 Australians in Queensland, the post-pandemic world looked a little bit like pre-COVID-19 times on Wednesday night.
Thousands of rugby fans gathered at Suncorp Stadium in Milton on Nov. 18, even as the neighboring state of South Australia reentered lockdown with a mandatory stay-at-home order for six days. The precaution was put into place to head off a second wave after 36 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed this week.
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Australia's National Rugby League resumed its season at the end of May, one of the first sports to return after the coronavirus pandemic brought professional sports across the world to a halt. And while this wasn't the first game held with fans Down Under — 46,061 people attended a game at Eden Park in New Zealand — but it was the biggest since the pandemic, with almost 50,000 fans nearing the stadium's full 52,500 capacity.
Queensland coach Wayne Bennett remarked that “the whole city was gridlocked as we were trying to get to Suncorp," reported the Guardian.
There were very few facemasks in the crowd, but fans had been quarantined — in a sense. Queensland closed its borders last week after recent clusters in Adelaide and Sydney and has only seen 12 new cases since Nov. 10. The state accounts for 1,190 of the country's 27,792 confirmed COVID-19 cases and only 6 of its 907 deaths. And enforcement is strict — even Ray Warren, the "voice of rugby" who had never before called a game remotely, was without a mandatory 14-day quarantine, the Guardian reported, so he called the game from outside the stadium for the first time in 77 years.
Of course, this meant relatively few fans from New South Wales were in the crowd, cementing Queensland’s home court advantage. But perhaps this was for the best, as the Queensland Maroons pulled off an upset against the NSW Blues in the deciding game three of the State of Origin series.
"Origin is quintessential sporting tribalism. Rapture wrapped in rage and catapulted into every poor sod stationed in its general direction. The annual tit-for-tat is often more about the people in the stands than those on the field and cardboard cutouts, innovative though they are, lack the required partisanship," wrote Emma Kemp for the Guardian.
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Correction: This story was updated to reflect the correct rugby team names.