Some of New Zealand's sports stars stranded overseas have called for an overhaul of the managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) system and accused the Government of giving preferential treatment to national teams from "bigger sports".
Sally Currie, the wife and manager of Ironman athlete Braden Currie , said the system is not fair because overseas sports teams coming to New Zealand are getting MIQ places ahead of individual Kiwi athletes trying to return home.
As well as tennis player Michael Venus, who is being joined by his family on the global tour while he can't come home because of a lack of MIQ vouchers, other athletes overseas for their careers include Braden Currie, triathlete Hayden Wilde , motorcross world champion Courtney Duncan , and golfer Ryan Fox, who this week suggested that sports people should be allowed to quarantine at home.
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The continued pause on MIQ bookings , with Auckland still in lockdown at alert level 4 after last month's Covid-19 outbreak, has led to more uncertainty with a system which is already strained by high demand.
Athletes such as Currie and Wilde decided to go overseas – not knowing when they could come home – to continue their careers after about two years at home.
Motorcross rider Duncan's sporting future is, potentially, on the line if she can’t get an MIQ voucher. She left for Europe in July and is on a work visa.
"If I overstay my visa then I won’t be allowed back. If I’m not allowed back then I won’t be racing, so there are things we need to work through," Duncan told Stuff .
While Currie was eventually able to get an MIQ place for late October, Wilde has not been as lucky, since leaving in April ahead of winning bronze at the Tokyo Olympics in July .
"There could be absolutely no chance of me getting home before the end of this year," Wilde told Stuff from London, days after winning a Super League series triathlon event against the world's best on Monday (NZ time).
"This is our profession. We need to make a dollar. We have to take that risk and come over to race.
"It would be great if the Government could organise a facility for other sports – not just for the All Blacks or Black Caps or big teams – where we can come home and get into MIQ to continue our training."
Wilde is planning to compete in more events in Europe and America before he hopes to return home by December.
Sally Currie said she only managed to secure an MIQ place for Braden after spending six weeks battling with an MIQ system that's like "repeatedly trying to win the lottery".
"Someone who comes home from the UK for a summer holiday in New Zealand might get a spot ahead of someone coming back for a dying family member," she told Stuff.
Currie, the reigning Ironman New Zealand champion, left for Europe in July to race at the inaugural Collins Cup event in Slovakia.
"He needs to race the world’s best. He's top 10. If he didn’t go, he would have lost his ranking and wouldn’t have got any financial bonus, and the sponsors which he relies on have an expectation he would be there," Sally Currie said.
"You could lose your spot in the game."
In a statement issued to Stuff , Minister for Sport Grant Robertson said the lack of MIQ spaces was frustrating, but the system has to be balanced to ensure New Zealand is kept safe from Covid-19.
"I have worked hard to support accommodation requests over the last year and a half, including a significant range of larger or complex groups (including the Olympic and Paralympic delegations and international sports teams). I will keep looking for ways to support sports people to compete overseas," Robertson said.
"The process and allocation for large, complex groups is separate from that for individuals. The intent of the group allocation is to manage and plan for large and complex groups that are a Government priority, for example, they frequently require bespoke or extra services while in MIQ. This allocation is decided by the Border Exception Ministerial Group and has ranged from between 350 and 500 rooms per fortnight."
Sally Currie’s grievances with the MIQ system prompted her to write to Robertson. She is among the nearly 16,000 signatories of a petition calling for change.
Her concerns began when Braden was not permitted to share a room with another triathlete, Dylan McNiece, who already had an MIQ spot, while the Wallabies were granted an "economic exemption" to travel through the border for two Bledisloe Cup rugby tests against the All Blacks in Auckland last month.
The English netball team are also in Christchurch to play the Silver Ferns in a three-test series this month, although their MIQ spots were confirmed several months ago when the demand wasn’t as high .
"The economic benefit is fine. I would love to see those events go ahead, but how do you put that before New Zealand citizens? That doesn’t make any sense to me," Sally Currie said.
The Government is refreshing its MIQ system with a new virtual lobby it says will give people more notice of vouchers becoming available.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins this week said more MIQ vouchers are coming .
"We’re constantly looking at how we can increase capacity. I acknowledge that current travel restrictions are challenging, and I want to reassure everyone that we are doing as much as we can to provide a safe passage into New Zealand for as many people as we can safely accommodate."
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