It won't be poor weather or a lack of interest amongst Tasmanians that threatens a thin turn out to Hobart's historic first Ashes cricket test later this month.
But COVID may turn people off as cases in Tasmania skyrocket.
Ironically, it was COVID that opened the door for Tasmania to host the fifth Test after Western Australia was deemed unsuitable due to its strict quarantine requirements.
Tasmania leapt at the chance, and paid $5 million to Cricket Australia for the right to do so — a decision made prior to the state's borders re-opening and before the reality of "living with the virus" had set in.
However, since the state's gates were flung open on December 15, infections have grown alongside the wariness of Tasmanian punters — although the first two days of the Test sold out within hours.
Ten days out from the historic fixture, Omicron is widespread, with Tasmania's Director of Public Health expecting 1 in 50 Tasmanians will contract COVID in the coming weeks.
Tasmanians who wish to witness sporting history, and watch Test cricket in their own backyard for the first time in five years, face the real prospect of getting sick.
"We have not heard any other advice from public health, so the Ashes will be going ahead," said Sport and Recreation Minister Jane Howlett on Tuesday.
That's unlikely to change. Barring an outbreak of COVID amongst the travelling teams, the fixture will go ahead.
Tasmania paid $5 million to Cricket Australia for the right to host the Ashes.(Getty: Steven Markham/Speed Media/Icon Sportswire)
A day-night Test in mid-January is set up for the television broadcasters, which will have their prize.
But apprehension among locals is rising and there's every chance many Tasmanians will opt for the couch over the grandstand.
What are the rules on masks? What is the deal with checking-in? So many questions. We have all the answers here.
It's a tough gamble for cricket fans; interstate counterparts can skip a year, mindful their capital's annual Test will roll around again in 12 months (unless they're in Perth).
Some Tasmanians will have bought tickets fearing not doing so could hurl the state back into Test cricket purgatory — another five-year wait, at best.
"I would hope that if the Test match doesn't proceed, or if it does proceed and numbers are low, that it's not a reflection on Tasmania as a destination to host iconic events like that in the future" said Labor Opposition Leader Rebecca White.
Cricket tragics will pray that Cricket Australia is listening, and not punish Tasmania for an underwhelming turnout, should that be the case.
Bellerive was awarded the fifth Test after Perth was deemed unsuitable because of strict COVID requirements.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)
Hobart must be afforded the same leeway as Melbourne, where the Boxing Day crowd was down due to COVID apprehension.
Read more about the spread of COVID-19:
- Are official COVID-19 case numbers now useless?
- So you've tested positive. Here's what you should do next
- Should we still be using check-in apps?
Of course, the MCG is not at risk of ever losing its hallowed fixture. Nor should it be.
Tasmania though, is in a dogfight. Cashed-up Canberra and emerging venues like the Gold Coast are jostling for content, waiting to pounce on any slip.
How many of Tasmania's population — by comparison, the oldest and unhealthiest in the country — will risk turning up at Bellerive? Who knows.
But if there are spaces in the pavilion, cricket's powerbrokers shouldn't rush to judgement.
Bellerive Oval is primed and prepped for the Ashes but will the crowds come?(ABC News: Luke Bowden)Want more Tasmanian news?
Set the ABC News website or the app to 'Tasmania Top Stories' from either the homepage or the settings menu in the app to continue getting the same national news but with a sprinkle of more relevant state stories.
Here's a taste of the latest stories from Tasmania:
- As Tasmania stops posting exposure sites, people crowdsource their own COVID information
- New residents breathe life into isolated town on Tasmania's wild West Coast
- 'Devils don't like bandages': Injured Tasmanian devil released back into the wild
- 'We met this old guy called Les': Milestone walk for wilderness regular 'Gandalf'
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