Officials did not refer multimillion-dollar yachting event bid to ministers

New Zealand’s boat races in the SailGP regatta in Plymouth, England.
SAILGP
New Zealand’s boat races in the SailGP regatta in Plymouth, England.

Christchurch has been let down badly by the Government over the SailGP yacht racing event and everything possible must be done to keep it afloat, city leaders say.

The January event would be part of a global multi-leg series raced by eight nations in high-speed catamarans. It has been put in jeopardy after Government officials refused MIQ (managed isolation and quarantine) places to sailors and support crews.

It would be Christchurch’s first major international event since the earthquakes 10 years ago, televised to a global audience of tens of millions of viewers, and forecast to bring millions of dollars into the region.

Karl Budge, head of the New Zealand event and commercial director for SailGP, said they had made the application for MIQ places through Crown agency Sport New Zealand, and the event’s “significant” economic benefits qualified it for entry.

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However, they were told there were not enough MIQ spaces, of which New Zealand has 8000 a month.

It is understood that about half the approximately 160 men and women who would need to enter the country for the yacht racing are New Zealanders. All would be vaccinated.

Potential economic benefits of the event have been calculated at between $21 million and $28m to New Zealand, and about $9m to the Canterbury region. One recent leg raced in Bermuda drew 89 million television viewers.

Minister of Sport Grant Robertson confirmed SailGP's MIQ application was considered by a group of officials who decided “not to progress the proposal for ministerial consideration”.

SailGP races take place in eight global locations each year.
SAILGP
SailGP races take place in eight global locations each year.

“This was due to the request coming during a period of high demand for returning New Zealanders.”

Robertson has not yet replied to questions over who the officials are, and why consideration of such a high-value event was not referred to a minister.

Budge said they were prepared to be as flexible as they could given tight timeframes and logistic considerations, and would consider moving the event if possible.

Robertson said any applications for future MIQ spots “will be considered by officials”.

Promotion and economic development agency ChristchurchNZ has been helping SailGP prepare for the event, and is understood to be paying a large incentive payment if it goes ahead.

Christchurch city councillor James Gough said the MIQ refusal was “a body blow” for Christchurch, which put a “magnificent opportunity” to showcase the region at risk.

“People have been tremendously let down. It's not only that locals and New Zealanders are looking forward to this, but it will be an economic loss of millions of dollars.”

Gough said the execution of MIQ had been mismanaged and the Government had had “enormous lead times to get their ducks in a row”.

Christchurch city councillor James Gough says the city has been let down by the MIQ system.
John Kirk-Anderson/Stuff
Christchurch city councillor James Gough says the city has been let down by the MIQ system.

“It's a slow-motion train crash, affecting New Zealanders' ability to get home and major events which have so much riding on them like SailGP.”

Fellow city councillor and 2022 mayoral candidate Phil Mauger said Christchurch needed to do all it could to let the event go ahead after “playing second fiddle to other cities”.

“It's our time. We should be bending over backwards to get his happening in Christchurch.

“They say it's worth $28m to New Zealand and $9m for the city. Surely we can come up with some MIQ, even if it's a boutique hotel somewhere with some barbed wire around it for half a million dollars.”

Mauger said while the event could be postponed, summer would be the best time for SailGP to showcase Lyttelton Harbour and Christchurch.

Karl Budge, of SailGP, says they are trying to be as flexible as possible.
LAWRENCE SMITH/Stuff
Karl Budge, of SailGP, says they are trying to be as flexible as possible.

Budge said that as well as the possibility of later dates, being part of a trial isolation programme was one of the options being discussed with officials.

He did not wish to comment on the MIQ application process.

“We can only really deal with what's in front of us,” he said.

“We're incredibly keen to bring SailGP to Christchurch. Lyttelton Harbour would be the best venue in New Zealand for the event, and it would be a privilege for us to be the first major event after the quakes.”