Super Rugby in doubt: Good and bad news for NZ sport after MIQ announcement

Author
Liam Napier, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 24 Nov 2021, 8:22PM
Sports Minister Grant Robertson poses for a photo with crowd members from the zoo during last year's Super Rugby Aotearoa clash between the Highlanders and Chiefs. (Photo / Photosport)
Sports Minister Grant Robertson poses for a photo with crowd members from the zoo during last year's Super Rugby Aotearoa clash between the Highlanders and Chiefs. (Photo / Photosport)

Super Rugby in doubt: Good and bad news for NZ sport after MIQ announcement

Author
Liam Napier, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 24 Nov 2021, 8:22PM

New Zealand's transtasman sporting competitions have been thrown into major doubt following the Government's border announcements for next year. 

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins revealed on Wednesday that New Zealand citizens and residents returning from Australia will get to bypass MIQ from January 17 but would still be required to complete seven days isolation at home. 

From February 13, fully vaccinated Kiwis can travel from all other countries, Hipkins said. 

From the end of April, all other fully vaccinated travellers can come into New Zealand without needing to go into MIQ. 

If teams are subject to the seven day isolation stipulations it will be virtually impossible for Super Rugby Pacific to launch its inaugural season, unless it is based in one country. 

The situation will create immediate headaches for New Zealand Rugby as it prepares to launch a new competition, with round two of Super Rugby Pacific scheduled for all 12 teams to play three days of double-headers from February 25-27 in Melbourne. 

The Breakers and Wellington Phoenix face similar predicaments. The Warriors' plans to play their first home game at Mt Smart Stadium in two years on June 18 are less likely to be affected. Those three teams, all of which compete in Australian competitions, have been based outside of New Zealand for large parts of the last two years. 

Minister for Sport Grant Robertson indicated there would be no isolation exemptions granted to sporting teams. 

"Of course I want the Super Rugby competition to take place but we're always led by the health advice and this has been the case all the way through there hasn't been a shift in the length of time," Robertson said. 

"The Ministry of Health's advice has been consistently not to have shortened isolation times so if sports teams are going to use this it will be the same length of time. 

"It's certainly one of the issues we're looking into. What this does do is free up a significant amount of MIQ space, so if that needs to be used by sporting teams it can be. 

"Sporting teams have been able to train while they're in MIQ so the difference between being in MIQ or a bespoke arrangement isn't actually that significant." 

NZ Rugby's general manager of high performance Chris Lendrum conceded next year's Super Rugby schedule may have to be drastically altered. 

"Like many other national sports organisations and businesses, we have been waiting for some direction around what the plan is for the re-opening of New Zealand's borders," Lendrum said in a statement. 

"We are now digesting today's Government announcement and what it means for New Zealand Rugby and our competitions in 2022. Today's news has the potential to specifically affect the Super Rugby Pacific competition given it is scheduled to kick off on February 18. 

"We now need to see more detail from Government and continue working on our existing contingency planning with key partners including Rugby Australia, Sanzaar and our teams." 

Barring an unlikely backflip from the Government, Super Rugby may be forced to revert to the respective domestic Aotearoa and Australian competitions used earlier this year, with the additions of Moana Pasifika in New Zealand and the Fijian Drua in Australia. 

Sport New Zealand chief executive Raelene Castle said in a statement: "Sport NZ is aware of the challenges faced by franchises and National Sporting Organisations who are part of transtasman competitions. We intend to work with them to understand the implications of the border restrictions on their teams and players, and to determine next steps." 

The ability to bypass MIQ will, however, be welcome news for many of New Zealand's individual sporting athletes including UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, Olympic bronze medallists Michael Venus, Hayden Wilde, Tom Walsh as well as surfers Billy Stairmand and Paige Hareb and golfer Ryan Fox, all of whom have endured major struggles attempting to return home amid the global pandemic.