Are New Zealand international athletes disadvantaged by taking COVID-19 seriously?
Recently the International Orienteering Federation (IOF) circulated the minutes of their November Council Meeting showing a clear preference to press on with the international calendar despite Covid-19. This approach may come at a cost – true international representation.
IOF is proposing that world championships in all disciplines should take place if 4 of the 6 top national teams or 6 of the top 10 national teams could be present. For World Cup, regional championships events and World Masters Games, there would be no requirements stipulating minimum numbers of teams or countries.
While this information is being circulated prior to a final decision being made next month, it is important to consider what this is likely to mean for New Zealand. Earlier this year ONZ expressed concerns to the IOF over a perceived Euro-centric decision making process that is likely to place less weight on the importance of teams like NZ and Australia taking part in international events like WOC and JWOC compared to traditional orienteering powerhouses like Sweden and Norway. The response from the IOF Secretary General sought to dispel our concerns, stating that our feelings were incorrect and that the IOF treated all members equally.
Half a year on and things seem to have changed – the world is working to restrict Covid and the IOF is now seeking to press on with international orienteering events. New Zealand, on the other hand, is one of a few countries who have had success eliminating it – something that seems to come at a cost for New Zealand-based athletes.
To send a national orienteering team overseas from New Zealand is fraught with uncertainty. While team safety is paramount, we do have to accept that there are safeguards in place to ensure events are as safe as possible. Athletes and ONZ still have the ability to make educated decisions as to whether or not the risk in travelling to an event is worthwhile.
What we cannot control are the practicalities around cost and time. Mandatory lockdown comes at a cost and with up to seventy athletes, managers and coaches representing New Zealand in a year, quarantine alone could cost $315,000 ($4,500 per person). This figure fails to include the cost of travel, accommodation, food, entry… and there is no certainty that we would be able to get our teams back into the country when we desire.
Things like travel insurance are inherently less likely to cover changes due to Covid-19. Without insurance, the possibility of refunds for accommodation from providers whose countries whose approach to Covid is less cautious than ours is remote. Recent comments from Pakistan cricket icon Saeed Anwar following the NZ government’s threat to send the team home epitomise the different points of view about how Covid is treated.
…So where does this leave New Zealand teams wanting to go overseas? ONZ is working through a range of options and their financial ramifications. We are also putting out a brief survey to senior and junior elite athletes to better understand the financial practicalities and willingness to take part in international competition. This is clearly a work in progress, and we will communicate with stakeholders as things progress.
Christo Peters | ONZ General Manager