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America's Cup: Challengers frustrated over continued Kiwi border ban despite exceptions

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 21 May 22:31 NZST
American Magic prepares for a test sailing session - January 2020 - Pensacola, Florida. © Will Ricketson

The America's Cup Challenger's frustration with being unable to get answers on their entry process into New Zealand in July/August, boiled over today in the lead item in the mainstream sports news.

Currently New Zealand has closed borders - a measure necessary to get the spread of the coronavirus under control.

However now the country reports zero new cases and the five week long lockdown measures are being eased.

Following the cancellation of the two America's Cup World Series regattas in Cagliari and Portsmouth, three teams are looking to re-organise their programs around an earlier entry into New Zealand to build up for the now third America's Cup World Series Regatta in Auckland in mid-December, followed by the start of the Prada Cup or Challenger Selection Series in mid-January 2021.

Already the teams have invested in coming to Auckland with American Magic, loading an AC75 and containers this week for Auckland. INEOS Team UK are well advanced with their base construction in Auckland at a cost reported as $7million.

The story was lead item on the prime-time sports news in New Zealand with Skype interviews with INEOS Team UK's Grant Simmer and NYYC American Magic's Terry Hutchinson.

Earlier in the day, Grant Robertson, Minister of Finance and Minister of Sport, revealed that despite the official policy of closed borders the NZ Government did have the ability, and had made exceptions. "There was an urgent need to fix a gas pipeline, and they needed specialists. We can grant exemptions for that kind of thing," Robertson said. "Now we have to say as we move down the alert levels - "what do we do for the likes of the America's Cup?".

"That work is underway and we have been talking to Team New Zealand and we hope to have some announcements to make about that soon."

When questioned by Magic Talk's Peter Williams, a highly experienced sports commentator, as to the meaning of "soon"? "Within the next month?", Williams asked.

"Obviously they [the teams] want to be in here in the next couple of months. We need to be able to at least give them a response before that time.

"As I said we are working through that, and not just for the America's Cup. I know it is an important event for New Zealand but we also have to have consistent criteria."

Several other major world championships for womens cricket and rugby are also due to be held in New Zealand in 2021, and will have a greater national diversity than the three foreign nations represented in the America's Cup regattas.

Some America's Cup team members who hold NZ passports are believed to be be undergoing a 14-day government supervised quarantine in Auckland. If the so-called "Trans-Tasman" bubble is established between Australia and New Zealand, allowing quarantine free passage between Australia and New Zealand, then it is likely that Australian passport holders, like Luna Rossa's Jimmy Spithill could enter New Zealand without restriction.

Last week a Bill was passed under urgency in the NZ Parliament pertaining to COVID-19 related immigration matters. It would appear to give the Minister of Immigration the power to revoke already issued visas to non-residents seeking to enter New Zealand, but not create an exceptional path for America's Cup teams and others associated with the event.

Emirates Team New Zealand are still awaiting the return of their AC75 from Italy - expected into Auckland in a couple of weeks. In the meantime testing and development continues in their 38ft test boat Te Kaahu, around the islands of the idyllic Hauraki Gulf.

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