On a day where Week 2 of the Farah Palmer Cup and Week 1 of the Mitre 10 Cup kicked off in a double header at North Harbour Stadium, the rugby headlines yesterday were very different. As the week had gone on, we became aware of two things. Firstly, SANZAAR would make a decision on the 2020 Rugby Championship during a teleconference on Thursday night and secondly, New Zealand seemed to be falling behind Australia in the race to play host.
On Friday morning, the leaks started in advance of the official SANZAAR announcement; the tournament, it seemed, would be held in Australia. Later on, again, before the official announcement, Jacinda Ardern was asked for her thoughts (on the assumption SANZAAR would announce Australia as the host):
‘We put in a huge amount of effort into that bid, worked really hard to accommodate the needs of the tournament and the players, even creating a regime where they could be training within three days of arrival in New Zealand. If we are not successful, I would say it would be a result of being caught up in some SANZAAR politics…New Zealand has hosted tournaments like this and on a larger scale before, I have every confidence in the facilities.’
Then, at approx. 3pm came the official statement from SANZAAR. As predicted/leaked, Australia will indeed play host. The part of the statement that most have concentrated on is:
‘SANZAAR ultimately determined that based on government required quarantine protocols [for entry and training prior to the tournament] and commercial underwriting, the Rugby Australia submission was the most desirable and workable in terms of tournament logistics for the essential pre-tournament preparation period and the six-week tournament itself.’
So, first, let’s look at the quarantine protocols. The New Zealand Government, on advice from the Ministry of Health, agreed to the following protocols upon the squads and support staff arriving in New Zealand:
Days 1- 4: Self quarantine.
Days 5-7: Training permitted in bubbles no bigger than 15.
Days 8-14: Training permitted in bubbles no bigger than 25.
In Australia, the teams land and there is no period of self quarantine. From day 1 they are in an unrestricted bubble and able to fully train together. When you consider the lack of rugby South Africa and Argentina have had, this is a far more attractive proposition from a player preparation perspective.
Secondly, in the SANZAAR statement, there is reference to ‘commercial underwriting.’ It’s not clear exactly what this means, but New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive Mark Robinson said yesterday:
‘It would be fair to say they’ve (Australia) had government support at a number of levels around the approval of crowds, the quarantine arrangements they’ve been able to put in place and some financial support.’’
If the tournament took place here during Level 1, then crowds here would be unrestricted, but at Level 2 it’s a different story. Was the Australian bid able to guarantee a level of crowd attendance, regardless of the Covid situation at the time? Fewer people coming through the gates obviously reduces income, but it reduces that for everyone as Mark Robinson also confirmed that there is a revenue sharing agreement in place between all four participants.
From everything I’ve read there are two main camps of opinion.
- Rugby shouldn’t get any special treatment and if that means we don’t host the tournament, so be it.
- The government should have done more around the quarantine protocols to give New Zealand the best chance of winning the tender.
Out of that comes various points.
The quarantine protocols that were agreed upon by the New Zealand government (based on advice from the Ministry of Health) were already a form of special treatment, but to win the day, they didn’t go far enough. Should the government have gone further?
On what basis is Australia able to offer less restrictive/more attractive quarantine procedures?
Even if both sets of quarantine protocols had been the same, who would have had the stronger ‘commercial underwriting’ proposal to stage the tournament? Would Australia always have won on that basis anyway?
In addition, what were the ‘SANZAAR politics’ that the Prime Minister referred to prior to the official announcement yesterday? Should she have concentrated on talking about the quarantine protocols that the government agreed upon from a public health perspective, rather than mentioning something which is less tangible and for many, quite confusing?
The frustration over agreed quarantine protocols is in my opinion, a microcosm for some people who are Covid weary. Many will feel if we can get a Rugby Championship up and running in New Zealand, then we are winning the battle against the disease but if we can’t secure the tournament, then perhaps we aren’t moving forward as much as we thought?
From a glass half full perspective, let’s not forget that New Zealand will play host to two Bledisloe Cup tests in October. In addition, we can’t be certain that the Rugby Championship will even eventuate. The SANZAAR statement said:
‘The progress and impact of the pandemic has varied from country-to-country and international sporting competition is currently suspended in South Africa. The Springboks’ participation will be dependent on the relaxation of that suspension as well as overcoming a number of other logistical challenges including the opening of international air borders. South Africa is only expected to return to competitive play next month [October], leaving a relatively short time to prepare.’
One thing that Covid has taught us is that things change quickly, so let’s look back in a couple of months and see what actually came to be.
Oh, by the way, those results from last night?
Farah Palmer Cup
North Harbour 17-67 Bay of Plenty
Mitre 10 Cup
North Harbour 29-43 Canterbury
The action continues today.
Follow Aiden on Twitter