WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand's professional rugby league and soccer clubs have chosen to become sporting exiles in the hope of continuing to play in Australian leagues during the coronavirus pandemic.
The New Zealand Warriors played in Newcastle, Australia last weekend in the first round of Australia's National Rugby League season and have chosen not to return to New Zealand in the immediate future. The NRL has said no further matches will be played in New Zealand because of requirements that all travelers arriving in the country self-isolate for 14 days.
The Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand's only professional soccer team, have agreed to move to Australia and undergo 14 days of isolation from Wednesday in order to continue playing in the A-League.
Team officials made the decision after receiving confirmation from Australian heath officials that players will be able to train together while in isolation. All of the Phoenix's remaining matches this season will be played in Australia.
"The decision to travel to Sydney in an attempt to complete this season was made as a club," general manager David Dome told the Stuff news website. "We have discussed this among ourselves, consulted with health professionals and government bodies in Australia and New Zealand and taken all possible precautions to ensure those traveling are given the best protection possible.
"We are also conscious that the situation is constantly evolving and it may all change again tomorrow, but we are making this decision with the best information we have available at this time."
Lower-tier and community-level sporting competitions have been suspended in Australia, but the NRL and the A-League intend to continue their seasons in empty stadiums, without fans. There are doubts that even this will be feasible as more stringent restrictions are imposed on public gatherings.
Meanwhile, New Zealand's rugby union says it hopes to have plans for a series of derby matches between its Super Rugby teams by the end of the week. The Super Rugby season, which involves teams from five countries, has been suspended.
NZR chief executive Mark Robinson said an alternative domestic competition was being discussed with New Zealand's five franchises.
"We've got 10-12 weeks to look to provide some rugby product for our fans," Robinson told Sky Sports. “We're in regular dialogue with (the New Zealand teams) on a daily basis.”
New Zealand already has limitations on public gatherings which would likely force matches into closed stadiums.
"There's a lot of restrictions around what people can do at the moment, so we're very mindful about what our fans want and this is a fresh opportunity. We've got to take the positive from it and make something exciting from it," Robinson said.
Most sports have shut down in Australia and New Zealand to avoid the spread of the coronavirus, including the cancellation of finals in professional basketball and cricket leagues. While a domestic netball competition is continuing in empty stadiums in New Zealand, local club sports competitions have been postponed and horse racing meetings are taking place on closed tracks without bettors.
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