Crossed wires between ASB Classic organisers and the NZ Government seem to have contributed to the demise of Auckland's international tennis tournaments this summer.
Organiser Karl Budge has been forced to pull the plug on the longstanding men's and women's events, after failing to secure relaxed COVID-19 quarantine restrictions for some of the world's top players after their arrival in New Zealand.
But the tournament's principals have disputed Government claims they wanted to allow spectators and officials into the same bubble as players.
"It's disappointing that the tennis can't go ahead," says Minister for Managed Isolation and Quarantine Megan Woods. "COVID is affecting a lot of sports tournaments around the world and, of course, our priority is to keep New Zealanders safe.
"We have successfully negotiated quarantine arrangements for rugby, cricket and netball, but tennis wanted to go further than our health officials were prepared to go.
"They wanted to allow spectators and tournament officials to be in the same bubble as players, and have a very large bubble.
"We are happy to be flexible, as long as it's safe and aligns with health advice."
Restrictions on sports teams visiting New Zealand over the next few months include:
- Individual isolation until a negative COVID-19 test result on day three
- Maximum training bubble of 15 until negative test results on day six for all team members
- Maximum training bubble of 25 until negative test results on day 12 for all team members
- Teams can exit managed isolation after negative test results on day 12
But the ASB Classic tournament - significantly, not Budge personally - has issued a statement that disputes Woods' version of discussions.
"At no point was there any suggestion or request made by tournament organisers to have players and fans in a bubble," says the statement.
"Thorough consideration had been given as to how players would remain isolated from the public at all times while in New Zealand and a robust plan was proposed, including from when players left their destination of origin, throughout their time at the tournament and until they left New Zealand at the end of the event."
The ASB Classic has traditionally acted as an ideal build-up for players contesting the Australian Open in January, but closed borders, travel bubbles and quarantines between the trans-Tasman neighbours have proved an unsurmountable obstacle in the current pandemic.
Budge has pledged to bring the tournaments back for 2022, but now faces a tough task restoring the momentum built over recent years, when tennis stars like Serena and Venus Williams, and Caroline Wozniacki have become regular visitors to Auckland.