'Looking to be resolved': PM Ardern responds to Warriors players being banned from NZ

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 30 Jul 2020, 2:12PM
Selestino Ravutaumada and Eliesa Katoa could be stuck in Australia after the NRL season. (Photos / Photosport)
Selestino Ravutaumada and Eliesa Katoa could be stuck in Australia after the NRL season. (Photos / Photosport)

'Looking to be resolved': PM Ardern responds to Warriors players being banned from NZ

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 30 Jul 2020, 2:12PM

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has addressed reports that two Warriors players have been banned from entering New Zealand, saying the situation is "still looking to be resolved".

It was revealed yesterday that Eliesa Katoa and Selestino Ravutaumada won't be allowed back into the New Zealand after leaving the country in May to play in the restart of the NRL.

Katoa, who has been one of the Warriors' star players this season, is Tongan and Ravutaumada is Fijian. Both are on New Zealand work visas.

It means the duo are effectively stuck in Australia due to New Zealand's strict Covid-19 measures which closes the country's borders to all but citizens or permanent residents.

When asked about the players' situation today and why some non-citizens like America's Cup participants are allowed into New Zealand but others like Katoa and Ravutaumada aren't, Ardern said issues at the border were "complex".

"I'd say that from what I've been briefed on, that's a matter that's still looking to be resolved. But I think it just demonstrates the complexity of those issues at our border," the Prime Minister said.

"Of course citizens, permanent residents [are] obviously able to come straight through. Those who might be on visas but there are economic reasons for them being here, that takes a bit more of a process.

"I understand that's still a case that's been worked through."

Both Katoa and Ravutaumada have been residents for more than three years after moving to New Zealand as teenagers on sport scholarships. Ravutaumada has even been selected for the Junior Kiwis team.

However, Ardern said there are several other factors that needed to be considered when processing individual applications.

"We've set some really clear criteria and that's something that we have officials that work through those applications. But we are very clear that if you are outside that category of being a citizen or permanent resident there are expectations that you meet certain criteria so that we can see that the need for you to come here is linked into the wider wellbeing of New Zealand as well."

Warriors boss Cameron George said the club wasn't made aware of the issue before the team left the country.

"We didn't have any insight into these challenges before the team departed to go to Australia," George told NZME. "If we did, we certainly wouldn't have allowed the players subject to these restrictions to leave because the last thing we want to do is separate them out on returning back to New Zealand.

"We weren't privy to that. I also acknowledge and understand things have changed since then as well. It's tough on everyone but certainly this situation isn't ideal."

George said the situation added more stress to what is already a "tough" situation for the players.

"They're focusing on footy and doing the best they can for the fans but it's not ideal. It's not what they want to hear and it's not what they're expecting to hear. It's tough enough for these guys as it is.

"From a common sense perspective it's pretty easy to demonstrate that the two younger players, who at this point in time are restricted from coming back, can demonstrate their residence in New Zealand and add to the economy and tick all the boxes they need to and are equal to the Australian players and staff."

George said he appreciated Ardern's comments on the issue and hoped it will be resolved soon.

"Hopefully we can get the result here again and get the boys home whenever the season concludes."

Katoa and Ravutaumada were given exemptions by the Australian Border Force to travel to Australia, where the Warriors have been based since the NRL resumption in May.

George said the pair will be able to live in his family home in Australia after the season if they needed to until the issue is resolved.