World News – UA – I was waiting a few weeks, now 111 days and 25 coronavirus tests later, it’s almost over


My partner and I left Melbourne early in the morning of the first Monday in July

It looked a bit like a mysterious flight as it wasn’t until a short time before we left that we really knew where we were going

We were off for what I thought would be a few weeks of AFL football refereeing at one of the interstate hubs before the matches returned to Melbourne

Now 111 days, 25 coronavirus tests, six hotels and 1,000 kilometers of racing later, I’m almost ready to go home

It was an amazing journey of ups and downs as I played my little part in trying to maintain this game loved by so many Australians

At the beginning of July, my first task was to organize the « homework » from an interstate hotel within a very short time frame

My day job is as a reporter in the ABC Asia-Pacific newsroom and luckily my boss was very accommodating

One of the first bizarre experiences came when we boarded the charter flight from Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport

Instead of crossing the main part of the airport, we waited with hundreds of other players, referees and AFL staff in a private terminal before crossing the tarmac and boarding the plane

In these COVID times, there is no food on planes and people are scattered as much as possible

We checked into our first hotel in Southport on Queensland’s Gold Coast with dozens of other referees and their families

With us all sharing the same hotel floor and having breakfast, lunch and dinner together, it really quickly started to feel like a 8th grade camp with all your friends

My colleague Michael Marantelli – who is also refereeing the grand final today – set the record with 211 continuous kilometers around the oval in one of his races

I was getting ready for a Saturday afternoon game at the Gold Coast Stadium between Fremantle and St Kilda

But just before leaving for the match, my place was suddenly in doubt – the result of my COVID test had not arrived and in no case were any players or officials involved in matches allowed to participate without record a negative result in the preparation

Thanks to the good work of our hub manager, he was able to access the laboratory and confirm that the result was negative

We have been tested before every game and, if we are lucky enough, sometimes even a few times a week

By my calculations, I had racked up around 25 tests over the past few months – some less enjoyable than others

On occasion he did spill blood, while my favorites were with one particular guy who was quick and said « now just a little in the nostril »

Often there was a bit of a scramble in the lines trying to position yourself to get one of the « nice » testers

After a week in Southport, for logistical reasons, it was time to move to another hotel just down the street

As with the previous hotel, we shared our accommodation with a few football clubs, families and partners of players and officials

As Melbourne coronavirus cases continue to skyrocket, people gathered around televisions on Wednesday this week as AFL boss Gillon McLachlan announced there would be no more in Melbourne for the foreseeable future

Suddenly what I thought would be a few weeks was more like a few months

By early next week, we had arrived at our third hotel, this time in Broadbeach, where we would be fairly comfortable for the next few months

Life in the hub meant limiting your interaction with the audience, not sitting in cafes, restaurants or the like, always taking social distances, and following strict rules about fellow umpires you might date

In fact, the AFL hub’s rulebook was 17 pages long. And for good reason

It took a lot of work with governments and other stakeholders to ensure the season could continue safely

Although being away from home for so long and following such strict rules was not always easy, we were fully aware of the difficult times that so many other Australians were going through, especially those in Melbourne.

But if we could help keep football on TV and in the stadiums for the fans, we were happy

The next three months of the hub’s life, like 2020 in general, have been full of twists and turns and unexpected moments

Never before had I refereed three matches in a little over a week, but that’s what came with the « footy frenzy » periods of the season where matches were played every day

No more big group sessions on the track and meetings in theaters, but instead of running alone and coaching on Zoom

I did a jogging session along a gravel path in a brushy area near Surfers Paradise that I will not forget in a hurry

Moving along at a pace of just over 3 minutes per kilometer, I was puffing hard and keeping an eye on my watch

Turns out I should have kept an even closer eye on the path, as I was inches away from stomping on a snake

I noticed it at the very last second, like me I jumped and it jumped

Luckily we both escaped unscathed – aside from a spike in heart rate which I struggled to reduce

By mid-October, I had refereed the 18 rounds there and back, with trips to Adelaide and Cairns in between, and three finals

The last Sunday before the grand final is always an agonizing day for the referees – we are waiting to find out who was selected for the biggest game of all

As soon as I saw the trainer’s name appear on my phone in the late afternoon, my heart rate skyrocketed again

And as soon as I answered, I immediately listened to the clues in his voice of good or bad news to come

I’ve been fortunate enough to have participated in a few epic grand finals before, including the 2010 draw

This one will be special And I think it could be just another classic

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AEST = Australian Eastern Standard Time, which is 10 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)

Australian Football League, AFL Grand Final, Geelong Football Club

World News – UA – I expected a few weeks, now 111 days and 25 coronavirus tests later, it’s almost over



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