New Zealand gives sports sector $157 million boost to get through COVID-19

FILE PHOTO: New Zealand's Finance Minister Grant Robertson speaks during a media conference in Wellington, New Zealand, May 17, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Barrett

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand's struggling sports sector has received a NZ$265 million ($157 million) injection from the government to help it mitigate some of the worst financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sports Minister Grant Robertson said on Sunday.

Robertson, who is also New Zealand's finance minister and delivered the national budget on Thursday, said funding and revenue had dried up for nearly all sports organisations and that they were under "immense strain".

"We are providing the support needed to sports at all levels to remain viable, get stronger and adapt," Robertson said in the post-budget statement.

"We have also seen many of our professional sports and athletes struggle as competitions have been cancelled or suspended. Budget 2020 will provide some assistance, so they can keep competing."

The funding would be spread over four years, with NZ$83 million made immediately available for "short-term support".

A further NZ$104 million would be available in the medium term to help the sector rebuild, while the remaining NZ$78 million would be for the development of new programmes that help communities get back into activity and recreation.

All levels of organised sport have been on hold since March when New Zealand went into a national lockdown to attempt to contain the spread of the disease, restricting exercise to walking, running or cycling alone.

The government loosened restrictions in April and then eased them further on Thursday, allowing the resumption of professional sport, although fans will not be able to attend matches.

Community and club sports competitions are still on hold, with organisations told by government body Sports NZ to enter a "get ready" phase to prepare for a return.

Health officials reported one new coronavirus infection on Sunday, bringing the total to 1,499, of which 1,149 are confirmed. Only 45 are still considered active cases.

There have been 21 deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new virus.

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by William Mallard)

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