Several of New Zealand's sporting personalities have called for changes to the country's managed isolation and quarantine system, with the voucher system further impacting their ability to work.
For many of the country's professional athletes, travel is a major aspect of the job as events are held around the world. However, the recent rise in the difficulty to secure a voucher for an MIQ facility upon return is forcing individuals to rethink their travel plans or be forced to travel abroad without coaches, and has also seen several sporting events scheduled to be held in New Zealand cancelled.
In a recent interview with Newstalk ZB, Olympic bronze medallist Dylan Schmidt suggested an athlete-specific MIQ facility should be considered to allow those who rely on competing overseas to make a living.
It's an idea that is backed by City Kickboxing head coach Eugene Bareman, however, he would rather there be facilities available to professionals from any industry whose work takes them abroad.
"It does come about a little bit elitist, like athletes should be treated differently to other people, but I think you should categorise some of those athletes as professionals," Bareman said.
"This is their job and this is how they make their living, and maybe in terms of that, everybody that makes their living overseas – not just athletes – should be given some sort of preferential treatment with MIQ vouchers.
"I do see the danger of singling out just athletes and letting the rest of the society, the rest of the population go unnoticed, but I think some special provisions should be made for people that exclusively make a living overseas. That would solve not just the UFC fighters' problems, but so many other people's problems. There has to be a better way to deal with this."
Bareman, who trains UFC stars such as Israel Adesanya, Brad Riddell, Dan Hooker and Kai Kara-France, said the majority of his UFC fighters – including middleweight champion Adesanya - are highly unlikely to fight again in 2021 because they are unable to secure vouchers back into the country.
However, two of his athletes will be taking the risk of an unknown return date. Genah Fabian flew to the USA late last week for her semifinal bout of the Professional Fighters' League season against reigning champion Kayla Harrison today without a return voucher. The bout is the biggest test of Fabian's mixed martial arts career, with a win putting her one win away from the $1m prize. With the PFL operating as a season format, dates are set for bouts well in advance.
UFC flyweight contender Kara-France appears set to take the same risk of travel overseas without an MIQ voucher, with his bout against former UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt in December. A win over Garbrandt, who will be dropping in weight class, would likely put Kara-France in contention for a title bout in his next fight.
"As a team, and Kai and his family, they deemed that fight and what was possibly up for grabs too important to turn it down. So, they're taking a massive, massive risk – which I haven't recommended to any of my guys – but he's going to take a massive risk and leave the country without a voucher, essentially adding himself to that pool of thousands and thousands and thousands of Kiwis that are stuck outside trying to get in and can't get a voucher.
"That's a massive life-changing decision that he's got to make, especially with a partner and kid at home. He could be stuck until, well, I hate to even say."
Similar concerns about the MIQ system have been expressed by the Warriors and sailor Blair Tuke.
The Warriors could be stranded for months following the conclusion of the NRL season having been unable to secure a group MIQ booking so far. This could see them not return to New Zealand at all before the 2022 season. The club has already decided there will be no split pre-season, unlike last year where separate groups trained in Auckland and Kiama (southern NSW). Given the travel bubble is unlikely to reopen in the next few months, it's hard to see how the Warriors can complete pre-season in New Zealand.
Last week, SailGP was forced to cancel the inaugural New Zealand leg of their season after being denied MIQ spots. Earlier, the ASB Classic tennis tournament was cancelled for a second straight year for the same reason.
"It's difficult to travel if you're from Aotearoa at the moment, that's for sure. But at the same time, the quality of life has been very good if you look in general terms over the past year," Kiwi SailGP sailor Tuke told Newstalk ZB ahead of this weekend's SailGP leg in Denmark.
"It's a difficult one with where you draw the line; people representing Aotearoa on the world stage versus other people in professions that might need to go and come back. It's a difficult one but at the moment it is tough for us as athletes to get back and forth."
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Government was looking at making changes to the MIQ booking system, including notifying people when spots were being released, with an estimated 4000 people going through MIQ every fortnight.