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Jacinda Ardern contends high-profile MMA athletes treated fairly

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says high-profile MMA athletes are not treated differently from other professional sportspeople in relation to acquiring MIQ spots.

It comes after UFC middleweight world champion Israel Adesanya announced his move to the United States after experiencing struggles with the MIQ system.

"Cat's out the bag  … I'm moving to America," Adesanya wrote in a post on Instagram on Sunday.

"When faced with obstacles, we adapt and overcome. I'm 32 and applying pressure like J Cole before I'm out the game. We built this legacy at City Kickboxing ourselves and the support of the people. No government handouts or backing and became the number one winning gym on earth!"

His comments were due to decisions not to allow MMA athletes to continue preparations for their upcoming events using a makeshift lockdown bubble, as well as the fact Kiwi UFC fighters are among the many professional athletes in New Zealand unable to acquire MIQ spots.

'No difference'

But Ardern says she doesn’t believe combat sports athletes have been treated differently from professional rugby or netball players.

“I certainly would not expect there to be a difference in the way our sportspeople were treated. Having seen some of those comments, I see there is a wide range of issues there and there’s no doubt that managed isolation does make it hard to come and go from New Zealand and to travel when you have a role that requires travel, Ardern says.

“So I absolutely acknowledge and understand that but I hope that all our sportspeople feel that under the circumstances we’re in that everyone has fair treatment even though we’ve got tight borders.”

UFC star Dan Hooker has voiced his support for his teammate after Adesanya’s decision was aired at his press conference.

Hooker said, “I can definitely see where he (Adesanya) is coming from. He is speaking from the heart, he is upset about the situation."

“I think the powers that be showed their true colours. Sport New Zealand and the big wigs in the media back home in New Zealand have just kind of been playing nice with us because we have been getting so much attention for the country … and then they saw an opportunity to put a lid on us or put on us, and they showed their true colours of what they really wanted to do which was to stop MMA and the UFC getting massive in New Zealand.

“But it’s a part of New Zealand culture. Combat sports is a part of our DNA in New Zealand, and we are going to push through no matter what.”

City Kickboxing speaks out about the 'failure' of NZ's MIQ system 

However, City Kickboxing disagreed with Ardern's statement saying it was "not true".

In a post in their Instagram page, they said that their athletes, as well as numerous other sports men and women, were not eligible for the same dispensations granted to other teams.

"We were advised we did not meet the team's eligibility criteria in terms of size nor did we meet financial eligibility criteria regarding bringing income into New Zealand. We fervently challenge both those positions."

"Not only are CKB athletes representatives of a national team who wear the silver fern with pride, we are also a business, which provides jobs, supports numerous families and generates significant economic benefit to the country. Whether this be two huge stadium shows or providing some of the highest per capita viewership of UFC events in the world, or through event and hospitality venues, gyms and lounges across New Zealand being filled with people watching one of the countries most rapidly growing sports."

By speaking out, the gym hopes to use its platform to "bring attention to the inequity in the current MIQ system and its failure".

"To proactively develop sensible solutions, provided they don’t endanger public health. Our aim is to reduce the burden on a far larger group than just ourselves."