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Stay or come home: Kiwi sports stars’ dilemma

Two Kiwi professional sportsmen and their families were caught by the spread of Covid-19 in Italy – one came home but the other is hunkering down in Treviso. Jim Kayes reports.

Joseph Kayes doesn’t want to be in Tauranga again. Yeah, getting out of Italy where Ovid-19 manages to slash a lethal swathe is soothing and it’s still nice to be alive, but it’s not where he needs to be.

He needs to finish out the European Championship League with his Recco water polo team-staging the finals-not waiting in loneliness at Papamoa’s place with his friends.

He needs to align himself with the Australian team he played with at the Rio Olympics four years ago for a second shot at Olympic gold. Mum’s food is excellent, but at the moment it’s not the experience that he needs.

“It is a disappointment,” says Mt Maunganui College’s 29-year-old company. “They had the world league after the European champions, and then the Olympics. It is what you work for an athlete. This is why we are practising and playing.

“It’s all unreal. You don’t think there will ever be the worse case situations and all the worse case cases have happened.

“I am just seeing my year as an athlete in erase mode. There’s none there. “It’s the same for All Whites soccer player Niko Kirwan, the son of the legendary All Blacks wing and mental wellbeing supporter Sir John Kirwan, who plays for Reggiana in the Series C league as well as his Italian trade.

Kirwan had a good finish to the season with his team second on the table, his sixth in Italy where he spent most of his school years when his father was coaching the Italian side and then Japan.

“I’m going to be back in training on April 4 but it was put back and the sucking season couldn’t be over.”

“I had it with one of my teammates and I am lying in the changing sheds next to him,” Kirwan says. This was, luckily, three weeks ago and Kirwan is now in the open, but it caused a move from his apartment in Reggio Emilia, near the epicentre of the outbreak in Italy, to his family home in Treviso where he and his partner Claudia are hunkered down.

“You never care about how dangerous it is, but then when my friend had the flu it got pretty frightening.” Kirwan had to wait for the two-week incubation period to see if he got sick before returning home to his mother.

“It was frightening and you keep worrying about it psychologically and you’re afraid that without realizing you have it, you may have helped spread it,” Kirwan says the country is as much his home as New Zealand, having lived in Italy for 10 years as a child before completing his last two years of school at Auckland’s Sacred Heart College. And when the flu spread in Italy, he didn’t even contemplate moving back to Auckland.

“It’ll be all over the country, that’s why maybe you’ll be able to monitor it in New Zealand (with a significantly smaller population than Italy). Hygiene at airports and on planes was a problem for Kayes when he and his wife Jordyn and their three-month-old son Jai flew home last week.

But after seeing Recco, where he is playing for the highly popular Waterpolo club in town, transform into a police state, Kayes decided it was time to go “The epidemic was mainly in the north and in Recco we weren’t that bad so it was only a matter of time.

“We halted our season, it was hard to go out, it was closed, it was difficult to fly abroad, and the Australian Olympic people wanted the players home or closer to home.”

Strict travel regulations meant paperwork needed to be filled out and accepted only to leave their flat, so it was like nothing the pair had ever seen before when they arrived at Milan Airport. Currently one of the world’s busiest airports, only eight flights were on that day. Passengers have had to wait outside the airport to call their flight-one flight inside at a time.

Any did not do so by the gate.”We saw a lot of travellers waiting because they didn’t have the paperwork, or their next flight was to a country that had closed the airport.” There were just 50 passengers on board the 777 planes on the Munich to Doha leg route.

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