What Government's new traffic light rules mean for NZ sport

Sports around New Zealand have been boosted by the news that outdoor gathering limits will be scrapped this weekend.

The Government today announced new restrictions for the traffic light system, including the removal of outdoor gathering limits at the current red light setting from 11.59pm on Friday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it will be "welcome news" for industries like sport and entertainment.

"No question in my mind that this is likely to be welcome news to hear because we see now from a body of evidence, it is safe to be outdoors even right now," Ardern said at today's announcement. "And for events like sporting fixtures, outdoor concerts, I know that will be welcome news."

However, indoor sporting events will remain without fans for the time being, with indoor gathering limits increased to only 200 at the red light setting.

Fans will now be able to return to indoor sporting events at the orange light setting.

The Government also announced that vaccine passes will no longer be required from Monday April 4.

Here's how the news will impact sports around New Zealand:

Rugby

Fans will be back at Super Rugby Pacific matches from Saturday, meaning the Highlanders v Blues clash at Forsyth Barr Stadium and the Chiefs v Crusaders game at FMG Stadium Waikato will have no gathering limits.

However, both games are still up in the air after multiple teams were hit with Covid-19 outbreaks last week.

The Highlanders are hoping to be able to field a team to face the Blues after being forced to postpone their clash against Moana Pasifika last Friday. The Crusaders are in a similar boat after more than half of their squad tested positive for the virus.

Moana Pasifika's home game at Mount Smart Stadium against the Hurricanes on Friday night narrowly misses out on the new rules, which come into effect on Friday 11.59pm.

The return of fans at stadiums will be a huge financial boost for Super Rugby teams. Highlanders boss Roger Clark revealed last week that the franchise's expected losses – prior to the Government's recent announcement – was in line with the other four New Zealand teams of between $500,000 and $2 million.

Rugby league

The Warriors have committed to being based in Australia for the remainder of the NRL season, but will now be more likely to go ahead with their plans for two scheduled home games at Mount Smart Stadium in July.

The scrapping of gathering limits and the opening of the border to vaccinated Australians from 11.59pm on April 12 will likely be good news for Kiwi fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the New Zealand NRL side at home for the first time since August 2019.

The Warriors have yet to announce an update on their plans since today's Government announcement, but reacted positively on Twitter.

Cricket

The Women's Cricket World Cup in New Zealand will also be boosted by the announcement, with the White Ferns' final group stage match – and possibly their final game of the tournament – against Pakistan at Hagley Oval in Christchurch on Saturday no longer subject to gathering limits.

The Black Caps' three-match ODI series against the Netherlands beginning on March 29 will also welcome full capacity stadiums, but the one-off T20 clash on Friday will remain restricted.

Football

The Wellington Phoenix could now play in New Zealand as early as next month.

Phoenix general manager David Dome revealed to the Herald earlier this month that they are confident of holding games in New Zealand in April and May, including one match in Auckland, as long as gathering limits were lifted by then.

The club is working with the Australian Professional Leagues on a revised draw. There are three possibilities for New Zealand fixtures, with scheduled home games against the Central Coast Mariners (17 April) and Western Sydney Wanderers (25 April) as well as the catch-up match with Melbourne City.

Netball

The ANZ Premiership is the unfortunate league to not receive an immediate boost from the Government's latest announcement, with games played indoors.

Fans will only be able to return once the country moves to the orange light setting.

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