Organisers back NZ Winter Games postponement

Leading figures from New Zealand’s live sports and entertainment sector remain philosophical about the Government’s strict COVID-19 measures despite several event cancellations, with the Winter Games having become the latest victim of the country’s snap lockdown.

The multi-sport event was due to take place in the Otago region on the south island, which encompasses Queenstown and Wanaka, from August 29 to September 5. However, just four days before it was scheduled to get underway, the event was called off for a second consecutive year.

Earlier this week, the Government and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that Auckland would remain at alert level four until next Tuesday, while the rest of the country would only be at level four until Friday. However, these dates are set to be reviewed.

The Government imposed a lockdown last week after identifying a single case of COVID-19 – the country’s first since February. Such an aggressive strategy to clamp down on the Delta variant of the virus is unparalleled worldwide, but has huge implications for live event operators.

Despite the lockdown, New Zealand is continuing to witness a relative surge in cases, with 68 positive tests today (Thursday) alone. The latest outbreak of infections is now at 277 cases, 263 of which are in Auckland and 14 are in the capital Wellington.

However, Marty Toomey, Winter Games NZ chief executive, said: “While it is disappointing to cancel the event, we know it is the right decision and we will now turn our attention towards delivering another world-class event in 2022.” 

The tone of Toomey’s comments has been echoed by other influential figures and organisations that operate in live events, although political opposition is growing in relation to the Government’s vaccination roll-out. Only about one in five of the country’s 5.1 million inhabitants have been fully vaccinated.

At the beginning of the latest lockdown, Entertainment Venues Association NZ (EVANZ) posted on social media: “Good morning everyone – not the situation we all wanted to be waking up to this morning – but we’re all in this together. It’s important to look after yourself, your Whānau, your colleagues and employees.

“There are plenty of resources and links and, as always, the one source of truth is the government’s COVID-19 website.” 

Nick Sautner, chief executive of The Eden Park Trust, which encompasses New Zealand’s largest sports stadium, Eden Park, told “Obviously lockdown is a challenging time for the events and venues industry, and we would welcome being back to hosting sold-out events. However, it’s clear that this new COVID variant is far more transmissive. 

“From our perspective, the health and safety of our patrons is of the utmost importance.” 

There are four different levels of alert in New Zealand. Level one is ‘Prepare’, consisting of border entry requirements, intensive testing and rapid contact tracing. Level two – ‘Reduce’ – is where the live events and sporting industries are affected, as “event facilities, including cinemas, stadiums, concert venues and casinos, can have no more than 100 people at a time, provided that there are no more than 100 in a defined space, and the groups do not mix”.

Level three enforces social bubbles, working from home where possible and only essential businesses are allowed to have customers present. 

Alert level four, New Zealand’s current status, is a full lockdown. 

Sautner added: “While we are prepared for the lockdowns and understand them from a safety point of view, there’s no question they are incredibly disruptive.” 

“The reality is that the stadium industry is one of the few industries that can only operate under level one. This year we have seen the cancellation of the All Blacks’ Rugby Championship games against Argentina and South Africa, and the postponement of Bunnings NPC fixtures.”

Image: Stefan Lehner on Unsplash