24 Sep 2021

Government agreed to subsidise MIQ costs for international sports stars

8:38 am on 24 September 2021

The government agreed to subsidise international sports stars' managed isolation and quarantine bills last year - paying hundreds of thousands of dollars per team.

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Signs outside a managed isolation facility (file image). Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

In documents sourced by RNZ, officials asked teams to chip in $7000 per player, but acknowledged the total cost of their isolation could be double or triple that fee.

Since September, 448 international rugby, cricket and netball players have visited as critical workers. Under bespoke MIQ arrangements they can access tailored meals, more frequent laundry, more security and additional cleaning.

Briefings to ministers show sports players take up about 30 percent more MIQ hotel rooms, partly due to empty space left between them and other returnees.

Many have also been granted training exemptions giving them exclusive access to sports grounds that they can use in bubbles.

While most returnees pay $3100 for MIQ - about half the cost of their stay - sports teams paid $7000 per person.

"This fee included the critical worker fee of $4800 and an extra $2000 charged per person for non-standard MIQ arrangements," an MIQ spokesperson told RNZ.

A confidential briefing given to government ministers in September 2020 ahead of three events - the Rugby Championship, the Summer of Cricket and netball's Constellation Cup - suggested the true cost of sports teams' MIQ stays would be much higher.

The estimated cost for a rugby team to stay in MIQ was between $15,106 and $17,110 per person, and the estimated cost for a cricket team was $22 237 per person, including the hotel, transport, training facility, and staff fees.

The estimates were done while the government was considering different options for sports teams' MIQ - including a bespoke MIQ hotel in Queenstown - which it eventually scrapped in favour of a cheaper option - using the Chateau on the Park MIQ hotel in Christchurch.

It also did not differentiate between players and support staff, including coaches, dieticians and media managers.

However, ministers were advised that the government would be paying a substantial fee - which would need to come out of MBIE's Major Events Fund, or Sport New Zealand's Sport Recovery Package.

"The shortfall for rugby is $2.7 million and the shortfall for a decision on cricket is $1.5m," the briefing explained.

Ministers were also warned "there may be demand from other sports codes and industry groups for similar subsidised bespoke MIQ proposals" and told "if Covid-19 spreads as a result of [the planned sports events] then the flow on costs for the community and potentially the nation are unlikely to be able to be recouped."

RNZ has contacted MBIE for comment, asking how much the 13 international sports teams' MIQ stays actually cost.

Economic benefits

The documents also show the projected economic benefits of bringing the sports players into the country.

The Rugby Championship was hoped to bring at least $26m in economic benefits, Summer of Cricket was estimated to generate about $19.3m, and netball's Constellation Cup forecast to provide $2.6m.

Officials thought locals would have a healthy appetite for international sports.

"The Economic Development Agencies spoken to are also confident that international rugby cricket and netball will be highly popular in the current New Zealand market, which has seen a very limited amount of live international event content since the initial Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020."

New fees model

Another tranche of cricket, rugby and netball teams are set to arrive in the country between November and March using more than 500 MIQ rooms.

It was unclear how many of them would have special arrangements like access to training facilities, but MBIE confirmed any teams arriving after 1 August 2021 would be paying in full.

"Inbound sports teams will be charged on a cost recovery model reflective of actual costs incurred. This would mean that sports teams will be invoiced for all costs incurred by them during their stay in MIQ; including training venue costs and bespoke lodging costs, such as tailored meals."

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