They used to say sport and politics didn’t mix.
That naïve assumption was obliterated, in New Zealand anyway, during the 1981 Springboks tour.
But people still trot out the old line, as if they were in lala land during the lessons of history.
Now, of course, decisions taken by politicians during the Covid-19 era are impacting on all levels of society. As of today, the Blues are in a level three region – Wellsford to Pokeno – where gatherings of more than 10 people are forbidden.
That means no training as a squad, and they have canned their pre-season clash with the Crusaders at Eden Park, which was slated for Saturday. There was talk earlier today of the Blues heading to Christchurch for the hitout.
The hope is, of course, that the Auckland region comes out of level three on Thursday and life as we know it can continue with some normality.
While it’s fair that the ‘rank and file,’ that is, us plebs, need to observe the rules, it is patently absurd for a professional rugby team, which can easily enough adhere to all the medical protocols in their bubble, to shut down when we are not even at the highest level (four). Not when we see the Six Nations and all top tier professional rugby taking place in Europe, a Covid hotspot.
The Blues kick off Super Rugby Aotearoa II on February 27 against the Hurricanes in Wellington. They need to be training as a team by this Thursday for that match to happen on an even playing field with the other four Kiwi franchises.
Their first home game is not until March 14 against the Highlanders, so there are no concerns at this stage about teams coming into the problem area of Auckland.
So the Labour Government may be doing the right thing in general with Auckland, but life must go on. Rugby must go on, unless the lockdown level is raised.
Unfortunately, the Government’s strict level three restrictions have hit rugby hard in the Auckland region before. In August/September, if you recall, the three Mitre 10 Cup unions badly affected – North Harbour, Auckland and Counties Manukau – had to virtually write off their pre-seasons due to not being able to assemble for training. That was at level three. Harbour and Auckland returned very good seasons considering their early hardships.
This is what I wrote in September:
“But the impact on grassroots clubs in the wider Auckland region, from Wellsford to Waiuku, starved of any contact in the last month, is gut-wrenching. Many were already struggling and having no bar income and spectators since August 8 will push many to the wall.
“The restrictions on gatherings in the Auckland region – just 10 allowed – have been far too draconian, considering the porous border/isolation facilities were the issue last month. Masks and social distancing would have sufficed with some clear guidelines. Instead, the club and school seasons have been ruined right at the business end.”
It’s clear that level three is a level too far for grassroots rugby, but a professional team is entitled to train safely, observing all the requisite protocols, with a view to playing at level two, even if before not crowds.
If it’s good enough for the Six Nations, the English Premiership, the PRO14 and the French Top 14, with all the issues they have with postponed matches and positive tests among players, then surely good ol’ NZ, which has largely kept the virus at bay, can give dispensations to 38 players plus coaching staff to train as a group?
If the Blues cannot train together from Thursday in the region, it will throw a tight schedule into chaos, meaning some bye weekends may have to be used. At worst, if could see them relocated – maybe to Northland – for the interim.
It doesn’t have to happen. Lighten up, Jacinda.
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