SYDNEY (AP) — New Zealand’s Wellington Phoenix soccer squad is set to relocate to Australia again to compete in the A-League during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The Wellington Phoenix spent almost three months in exile in Australia to complete the 2019-20 season and are preparing to assemble again in New South Wales state from next week.
In a statement Tuesday, the club said it would make plans to play games in New Zealand if the so-called trans-Tasman travel bubble is established between the two countries and travel restrictions are eased.
“This is dependent on changes being made by the New Zealand government around the two-week quarantine process upon a person’s return to New Zealand, when it is deemed safe to do so, and the costs incurred of relocation back to New Zealand,” Phoenix said in the statement. “The club would like to recognize the continued sacrifice of its players, coaches and technical staff, who again face the prospect of being separated from their families and loved ones for a long period.”
The start of Australia’s top-flight soccer league has already been delayed by two months and is set to kick off on Dec. 27.
The long odyssey of the Phoenix squad became emblematic of the sacrifices made by New Zealand footballers to allow professional sport to continue in the pandemic era.
The Phoenix left New Zealand for Australia in June to finish a season which then had only a few regular season rounds and playoff matches to run.
The competitive part of the season ended in late August when the Phoenix were beaten 1-0 by the Perth Glory in the first stage of the playoffs after finishing the regular season in third place.
The Phoenix players then faced a further two weeks of mandatory isolation in New Zealand before they finally can be reunited with family and friends.