Coronavirus: NZ professional sport preparing for return under Level 2 alert

Professional sports in New Zealand are already planning for a return to action, when the coronavirus alert drops to Level 2, as early as next month.

Competitive sport around the world has ground to a halt, as governments close down borders and enforce lockdowns to combat the spread of COVID-19.

But Sports Minister Grant Robertson has confirmed there is light at the end of the tunnel, as New Zealand moves into a two-week Level 3 alert period.

While only limited forms of recreational sport has been possible under Level 4, the easing of restrictions will allow more activities to return, including surfing, hunting, mountain biking, golf and tennis.

And Robertson has told a daily coronavirus briefing that professional sports have begun preparing for competition to return during the next phase.

"Work is underway on what may be possible, in professional sport particularly, at Level 2," he says. "Sport NZ has been working with the major sporting codes, designing a potential way that could occur.

"We'd have to be cognisant of the rules at Level 2, for instance, we won't have large mass gatherings. If there is professional sport payed, it would be largely at an empty stadium.

"Also we have to make sure, if there are 'bubbles' created around teams and people around those teams, that those bubbles are safe. There are also issues to do with travel to work through as well."

NZ Warriors already appear on the brink of returning to the Australian-based NRL, with the rugby league competition scheduled to resume on May 28. 

Last week, Robertson described that timetable as "very ambitious", given the travel and quarantine challenges it faced.

Wellington Phoenix appear a little further away from completing their A-League football campaign. 

On this side of the Tasman, the racing industry has set dates for the return of greyhounds (May 11), harness racing (May 29) and thoroughbreds (July 3).

But Robertson confirms rugby and netball are also among the codes plotting their comebacks in New Zealand.

Super Rugby was suspended on March 14, after the NZ Government enforced border controls and 14-day quarantines for new arrivals. If rugby resumes next month, Super Rugby teams will likely play a series of local derbies within their own countries.

A few days later, Netball's ANZ Premiership was the last of our national competitions to close down, after mass public gatherings were banned.

"I hasten to add, all of this has to be done in a way that upholds our public health guidelines - that's why that work has to happen now," says Robertson.