Rapid testing – Why Bruce Keebaugh’s efforts to keep the AFL Grand Final in Victoria could save the events industry

On Rapid Anitgen Testing - “We’re not going to get out of this quickly.” Says Keebaugh.  “A pandemic doesn’t just stop one day, so we’re going to need tools like this.”

As the Herald Sun’s Jon Ralph today (16 August 2021) stares into his crystal ball and predicts that the AFL Grand Final will likely be moved to Perth, Bruce Keebaugh owner of The Big Group has dedicated his efforts to prove that prediction wrong. He has put together modelling, with Rapid Antigen testing at its core, to show how this iconic event can be safely run with crowds and kept in Victoria.

“We’re talking with AFL because the AFL without question, want for the Grand Final to happen with crowds, that’s number one. And to happen with crowds in Victoria. If that’s not possible it will go to Western Australia, like it went to Queensland last year. So, everything that can possibly be done, needs to be done to try and keep the event in Victoria and with crowds.” Says Keebaugh.

The reason Keebaugh is pushing for this to happen with the AFL Grand Final, as opposed to weddings for example, is that football is has been almost unique in continuing all the way through COVID. Furthermore, AFL has diplomatically managed its relationship with government, so the Grand Final is “absolutely the right event for rapid testing to prove major events can continue” He says.

“If we can get rapid testing approved for one major event, we would then be able to apply the same modelling to live theatre, to music & music festivals, to business events and all the way down to the weddings sector. If we could get it done once, we could get it done all the way through. Says’ Keebaugh.

Rapid testing has quickly gone from a topic that very few people talked about six weeks ago, to being now being discussed & reported in every newspaper & media outlet. “It’s frustrating.” Says Keebaugh. “Rapid testing is being done in the mining sector and construction, and New South Wales are about to put it on for education. The barriers have been broken and we’ve got to make it for our industry.”

“We’re not going to get out of this quickly.” Says Keebaugh.  “A pandemic doesn’t just stop one day, so we’re going to need tools like this.”

The COVID Passport offers little practical risk mitigation for guests, as the vaccinated can still be carriers of the virus. And rapid testing is far more cost effective than a blanket lockdown – Keebaugh estimates that the process he has modelled for the AFL Grand Final would cost around $2.5 million, whereas the lockdown in Sydney is currently costing $400million every week.

“It makes little sense to me” say Keebaugh. “You might have, in a group setting, a whole load of people who are vaccinated but are still carriers – We’ve designed the software that would link in with the rapid antigen test, your contact tracing and your ticket for entry. We’re calling it the ‘3 ticks’ for your gateway in and once you’ve got your 3 ticks you’re in.

The arguments about vaccination and vaccination passports are heated and divisive. Keebaugh points out that rapid testing is not only a proven risk mitigation tool, but also a way to bring people together and heal fractures. “Australian Rules Football is about the dustman, the prince, the CEO and everyone else. Its inclusive and it’s about inclusion.”

“If we can’t get some proof of concept that these major events can go ahead, the option is to shut them down, let our people go and put them on the dole.” Says Keebaugh. “It means that our industry has no value, the jobs we create have no value, the imprint we make, both in economic terms on broader tourism, and life within CBDs – has no importance.”

Bruce Keebaugh believes that event interruption insurance is the other side of the same coin to get events running again. “We have to plan well in advance and our labour represents a massive cost to put events on. Governments very much want events to go ahead, for their economic impact and the hope and the joy that they bring.  I think [event interruption insurance] it’s something we should all be pushing for.”

“The two things [rapid testing and event interruption insurance] become very powerful when aligned in our sector because they allow us to proceed. In the end they will drop off and that that’s not a problem but in order to save our industry and rebuild it, these – need to be considered by government and the agencies that deal with government” Says Keebaugh