NSW grants exemption to Victorian teams as A-League chief faces uncertain future
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NSW grants exemption to Victorian teams as A-League chief faces uncertain future

Greg O'Rourke has accepted he faces an uncertain future as the head of the A-League after overseeing the bungled attempt to bring three Victorian clubs to NSW before the closure of the state borders and rejecting a request from one club to relocate last week.

The A-League season will, however, be completed, with Football Federation Australia sources confirming to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that Melbourne Victory, Melbourne City and Western United received official travel exemptions from the NSW government late on Thursday – enabling them to fly to Sydney once players and staff all return negative tests for COVID-19.

Greg O'Rourke's position as head of the A-League is now in jeopardy, according to club sources.

Greg O'Rourke's position as head of the A-League is now in jeopardy, according to club sources.Credit:A-League.com.au

The last 27 games of the home-and-away season and the finals series will now certainly be played, although the planned fixture list is likely to be reijigged significantly.

It brings to a close an unedifying few days for the A-League, which was left embarrassed after failing to get the three clubs out of Victoria in time before the border to NSW was closed – even though the NRL, AFL, rugby union and even the V8 Supercars managed to move their teams without fuss.

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FFA chief executive James Johnson stepped in to get the exemptions with the NSW state government over the line, holding direct conversations with Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Wednesday and then health minister Brad Hazzard on Thursday.

Johnson has purposely tried to distance himself from A-League affairs because of its mooted separation from the federation - with the competition now ostensibly run by a separate business unit within FFA, headed by O'Rourke - but he saw fit to step in once the farcical scenes at the airport emerged.

While the Melbourne-based clubs have been publicly defensive of the A-League's organisational nous in the face of truly unprecedented and ever-changing circumstances, multiple industry sources have signalled serious dissatisfaction with the way this week, in particular, has been handled.

Former Italian international Alessandro Diamanti documented the farcical scenes of this week's airport confusion on his Instagram.

Former Italian international Alessandro Diamanti documented the farcical scenes of this week's airport confusion on his Instagram.Credit:Getty Images

O'Rourke now faces significant repercussions, with two last-gasp attempts to remove the Victorian clubs failing due to reasons beyond FFA's control, with fog at Canberra airport leaving one chartered jet unable to leave Melbourne.

However, O'Rourke's decision not to act until Monday morning has prompted a barrage of criticism directed at FFA, with the players' union slamming the organisation for a "lack of clarity" and "shifting commitments."

In accepting responsibility for the predicament of the three Victorian teams, admitting "the buck stops with me", O'Rourke conceded the plight could threaten his tenure as head of the competition.

"That’s fair, that’s a normal sort of reaction," O'Rourke said. "I don’t expect any other feedback and I also accept that’s exactly what might even happen, to be honest.

"If it means in the end for people to want to lose my role … that’s a possibility that is for others, but until that happens - if that happens - I’m going to be solely focused on getting that exemption, on getting the game back on the pitch, finishing the 27 games and the final series and delivering the A-League."

One source with knowledge of A-League operations described the mood inside FFA headquarters on Thursday as "close to breaking point", with club sources anticipating O'Rourke's job was now in jeopardy.

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After all AFL clubs left Victoria late last week, Western United requested the A-League follow suit and relocate the three clubs to Sydney on Friday morning. O'Rourke says the A-League turned down that request after not being told of the potential for borders to be closed on Friday by government officials.

"Our information not only verbally but also in writing was that there was no talk of border closures between Victoria and NSW, the border hadn’t closed in a hundred years and we should continue to monitor the situation," O'Rourke said. "I decided to book a charter jet for Tuesday, irrespective of what was happening."

However, there was a lack of consensus among the three A-League clubs to relocate. Melbourne City opted to remain in Victoria, according to O'Rourke, on the back of their club's own advice.

With the exemption now granted, the three Victorian teams can travel to Sydney on Saturday, but will have to first undergo 14 days isolation in Sydney before playing any games. They will be able to train during that time.

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