Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has put the brakes on claims America's Cup challengers' foreign personnel could be allowed into New Zealand within days - casting renewed doubt on the future of the event, set for March next year.
American Magic CEO Terry Hutchinson confirmed to the Herald yesterday that they have held direct talks with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) over the weekend and are optimistic team members will soon be able to depart for Auckland - despite the country's Covid-19 travel ban.
The American syndicate and Ineos Team UK had previously revealed their frustrations over a lack of communication and information from the Government on timeframes for getting their people on the ground in Auckland to prepare for the regatta.
After productive talks with the Government, Hutchinson said he was hopeful that around 20 foreign personnel could be on the ground in New Zealand as early as the end of the week.
However, Ardern today said no decision has yet been made regarding the America's Cup challengers and that only 10 per cent of applications to the Government for exemptions to enter the country are approved.
"My understanding is that no decision has been made when it comes to the America's Cup," Ardern said. "But it's one of many where people are seeking exemptions because they are essentially unable to operate without being able to travel.
"The process that this goes through is that the application goes to the MBIE.
"They will then make a judgment and determine whether or not the application should go to the minister for consideration. My recollection is that roughly 10 per cent make it to that point. A number are being rejected."
Two weeks ago, Hutchinson warned that the clock was ticking and if their personnel couldn't start arriving in New Zealand next week, they would soon be at a competitive disadvantage to Cup holders Team New Zealand.
But Hutchinson was more optimistic yesterday, telling the Herald: "In typical Kiwi fashion the folks that we have dealt with in MBIE have been exceptionally positive and receptive to the communication that we've had over the weekend and things are going in the right direction.
"I can see a light at the end of the tunnel and everybody is happy the communication has improved and you can see a genuine sense of health and urgency to help facilitate the teams coming down there."
Publicity last week surrounding the crew of Hollywood blockbuster film Avatar arriving in Wellington on a charter flight to undergo quarantine gave American Magic some hope that an exemption in their case could also be granted.
The Herald has approached American Magic for reaction to the Prime Minister's latest comments.