SYDNEY (AP) — The start of Australia’s National Basketball League has been pushed back to early 2021 because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

NBL Executive Chairman Larry Kestelman issued a statement Monday to confirm the start date will be delayed to January because of uncertainty arising from the varying travel and social-distancing restrictions in Australian states and in New Zealand.

“The main reason for pushing the start of the season back to the new year is to give the clubs the best opportunity to play in front of as many fans as possible,” Kestelman said. “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.”

Kestelman said organizers planned to play a full season and could use one or more bio-security hubs to get through the required games.

The season, which usually starts in October, had been scheduled to start in December for 2020-21.

Basketball is in a prolonged off-season Down Under, but training for the Melbourne-based NBL clubs was shuttered temporarily last month when 12 players from Melbourne United returned positive tests for COVID-19.

“As always, the health and safety of our players, staff and fans will be our No. 1 priority,” Kestelman said. “But we also remain focused on playing in front of fans as they are the lifeblood of the league.”

In Australia, the National Rugby League, Super Rugby, the Australian Football League and the national leagues for soccer and netball all resumed sometime between late May to July following a national lockdown, and all with different models to safeguard player and public health.

The Perth Wildcards were declared NBL champions of the 2019-20 season, two days after the last two games of the finals series were canceled in March because the Sydney Kings refused to travel to Western Australia state amid the pandemic.

Perth was leading the best-of-five game series 2-1 and was set to play at home.


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