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SailGP suspends New Zealand event after NZ Govt declines bulk MIQ application

by Richard Gladwell/ 15 Aug 2021 21:19 PDT 16 August 2021
New Zealand SailGP Team take the early lead across the start line with the fleet close behind on race day 2 of Great Britain SailGP, Event 3, Season 2 in Plymouth, UK 18 July . © Ricardo Pinto/SailGP

The Christchurch leg of the SailGP Season 2 has been put on hold, after the NZ Government refused to allocate about 170 places in Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) for the sailors and event officials.

The event would be the first major international sailing regatta in New Zealand to be held outside Auckland, and the NZ Govt decision is a major setback for the region. The economic impact of the SailGP Christchurch is stated at $20million, which will not now be realised.

SailGP Event Director, Karl Budge told Sail-World that unless there was a substantial shift in the NZ Govt's stance, the event would not be allowed to proceed. "The reality is that January is unlikely, but we are still working through what it [the NZ Govt decision] does mean."

Widely regarded as one of New Zealand's top event promoters, Budge was previously Tournament Director of the ASB Tennis Classic for eight years. He exited the role in 2020 after the NZ Govt similarly declined to allow international players to enter New Zealand to compete in the tournament, which despite being outside the Grand Slam circuit, attracted a growing retinue of top international players. The NZ Govt refusal caused Tennis Auckland to incur a $1 million loss from being unable to stage the ASB Classic.

The SailGP MIQ refusal comes on the back of an announcement by video production company, Amazon that they would be pulling out of New Zealand forthwith, and that shooting would continue in UK for future series. The decision has cost 2,000 jobs. Industry insiders said the primary reason for the move was that over half the staff involved were from UK, and negotiating bookings in the New Zealand's MIQ system was a major barrier in the medium to long term. Currently all New Zealand MIQ space is fully booked until the end of November. News reports claimed that high demand for MIQ places in January was behind the reason for the decline.

The Australian Rugby team was recently allowed into NZ, bypassing any standard MIQ requirements to play back to back tests in Auckland, despite several state in Australian being in lockdown due to the proliferation of the Delta variant of the COVID virus, which has not yet been picked up in New Zealand. America's Cup teams and media entering New Zealand last year had to undergo the 14 day MIQ sequestering, which is what SailGP sought. However at the end of May, several hundred places were removed from MIQ to allow hotel air conditioning upgrades, and that action coincided with the MIQ space shortage, coupled with the development of spiderbots and other automated processes, by software companies to snare available spaces, and on-sell these for $2,500 each. The practice has been sanctioned by the NZ Govt.

The MIQ situation has turned the booking and availability system into media football, with the Government apparently drawing a line in the political sand, and declining the SailGP request.

In a message released by SailGP on Instagram, the Event advised that their request for MIQ places had been declined.

"The request for access submitted by SailGP included the eight national teams competing in the global sports championship as well as the minimum number of specialist personnel required to successfully deliver the event," the SailGP statement said.

"The health and safety of all New Zealanders, SailGP's athletes and staff is of the utmost importance, and no special allowances or considerations were requested by SailGP.

"SailGP and Christchurch NZ remain equally engaged to bring SailGP to Christchurch, including the social and economic benefits it would bring, and are in joint discussions with the New Zealand government.

"All other events on SailGP's Season 2 Championship are continuing as planned."

Budge confirmed to Sail-World that despite the dire COVID situation in New South Wales, the SailGP event set down for mid-December would continue as planned. “That is definitely going ahead, and we have approval to go ahead” he added.

Budge said that discussions had been conducted with the NSW State Govt for the past four weeks. "They have been absolutely fantastic," he said. "We've had a very collaborative relationship with the State Govt. I haven't been directly involved, but the feedback from the SailGP team, is that they [NSW State Govt] have been fantastic."

Last week the New Zealand Government, responding to opinion poll pressure over its handling of the medium to long term exit strategy over lockdown policy, said that their intention was to open New Zealand's borders to those returning New Zealanders who had been "double-jabbed" with COVID vaccine, and trialling various protocols which would allow entry without the need for 14days stay in MIQ.

"I listened to that commentary last week, knowing that these conversations were happening in the background. There was nothing said around internationals, and it was all about New Zealand residents travelling. It was all about New Zealanders travelling rather than internationals coming into NZ," Budge added, indicating that currently there is no change from the current policy of requiring two weeks in MIQ.

Budge also said he knew open to the "other options" mentioned by Minister of Sport in Grant Robertson. But added that their approach is now to find out what the NZ Government would allow and "go backwards from there", rather that to continue to put up options which get rejected. But he noted that with "SailGP's global logistics, it is reasonably challenging."

Season 2 finishes in San Francisco in March - meaning that there is little chance of an extra event in Christchurch or elsewhere in Season 2. The best option would seem to be a second event in Australia - a similar response to F1 Grand Prix with three events staged in Austria, in June and July.

"Season 3 is a big focus now - but we are led by the NZ Govt. We have to be sure that we are not going to be in this same position this time next year."

"We are open-minded to a change of timing," he added.

The next event in the nine-round series is in Denmark this weekend.

Four of the NZSailGP crew, double America's Cup champions Peter Burling, Blair Tuke, Josh Junior and Andy Maloney have travelled to Denmark directly from competition at the Tokyo2020 Olympic Regatta.

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