John Brimble might be slightly biased but he genuinely
believes Otago is on the cusp of a golden sporting era. As 2013
begins, the Sport Otago chief executive shares his vision.
Otago defender Storm Purvis reaches for a pass during the
national provincial netball final against Waikato in Mt
Maunganui in October. Photo by Bay of Plenty Times.
Otago has one of the highest participation rates in sport and
recreation within New Zealand. We are heartland New Zealand
and produce a steady stream of talented athletes across a
broad spectrum of sport and recreation.
However, we cannot produce this talent without having a broad
base and high level of participation at grass-roots level.
The good news is that the number of children and youth
involved in sport and recreation across the region is
increasing, with Otago one of the few areas nationwide to
show an increase. In particular, our participation rates at
secondary school level rose by 3% in the past year.
As a result of a range of initiatives delivered through
regional sports organisations linking to schools, and through
Sport Otago and the Kiwisport scheme, participation at
primary school level has lifted remarkably.
Otago captain Derek de Boorder plays a cut shot during the
twenty/20 game against Canterbury at the University Oval on
Tuesday. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
We are witnessing a boom in most sports and increasing
participation in a whole range of fringe and new sports. Futsal
and miniball are struggling to cope with the numbers. This
increase at grass-roots augurs well for the future of Otago
For the past four to five years, and in the case of some
sports even longer, Otago has not reached its potential.
Yes, we have had individual success with the world-class
performances of Alison Shanks, Hamish Bond, Suzie Bates, Adam
Hall and the Wells brothers, to name a few. However, at a
team level, Otago has struggled. Well, that is no longer the
case. Look out, New Zealand, Otago is coming.
It's apparent we are on the verge of another golden period
for Otago sport. After years of attempting to compete in the
new semi-professional and professional era, by bringing
imports into bolster our teams, this has now given way to a
focus on providing opportunities for homegrown talent.
In fact, it's a trend across most of our team sports. For a
number of codes, it's been a period of gradual development
and evolution, with local players building their skills,
knowledge, experience and mental attitude for a couple of
years, before producing the results.
It started with the Otago Nuggets basketball franchise,
blooding and sticking with local club players, bolstered by a
couple of good international imports.
The real catalyst has been Mark Dickel coming home to provide
on and off court leadership. Last season, after a couple of
years at rock bottom, the Nuggets produced a run of winning
games that ignited the National Basketball League, and had
the biggest crowds of the league. Hayden Allen is returning
from Auckland and there is confidence the team will be even
better in 2013.
Against all predictions, the Otago netball team won the
national provincial competition last year, for the first time
since 1998. The core of the team was from the successful
under-21 team of previous years, and the current under-21
team also won the national championship. The investment in
local youth has paid dividends.
The Southern men's hockey team has continued the trend, with
a close-run second in the National Hockey League. Local
players rose to the occasion and forced themselves into
international representative consideration.
Otago cricket has, for some time, invested in local talent.
Last year, the Volts introduced a number of young emerging
players - the ''new guard'' - into the squad. The recruitment
of imports Ryan ten Doeschate and (very briefly) Brett Lee
has been exciting, of course. But so have the performances of
Jacob Duffy and Hamish Rutherford.
The future looks bright in terms of the pool of talent coming
out of Otago in the next few years.
We had the fantastic effort of Otago Boys' High School
reaching the final of the New Zealand First XV rugby
We have emerging Otago swimmers who have performed extremely
well over the year at national level. With impending changes
to the coaching structure, Otago swimming should go from
strength to strength over the next few years.
Expect more success, too, in surf life-saving, with the world
champion Laughton sisters in the IRB discipline, and
triathlon, with a group of emerging athletes just starting to
compete at world level and building on the success of Nicky
Samuels and Tony Dodds.
Adversity and hardship leads to innovation; it also leads to
looking within at our own local resources.
The Otago Rugby Football Union is a case in point. Almost
down and out, on the brink of ceasing to exist, one key
aspect of its revitalisation has been the investment in
born-and-bred Otago players. It reinforces that we have
always had the talent, but it hasn't always been provided
with opportunities beyond age grade. Hence, many a promising
player has been lost from Otago to go north, and usually
Selecting local players based on form and knowledge of
potential led to an appreciable lift in the standard of club
rugby, as those seeking higher honours sought to impress the
As a consequence of this local focus, we have seen the
emergence of Liam Coltman, Hayden Parker, Tony Ensor and Paul
Grant - the latter three all South Otago boys.
The pride in the province, pride in the jersey, playing for
each other and not giving in has never been more evident. It
has given a lift to the spirits of the population; we get a
good feeling from the reflected association with teams that
are performing well.
Isn't it great to feel positive and proud to be Otago? And,
talking about ''spirit'', the Otago women's rugby team has
shown plenty of that. Cost-cutting measures flowing from the
difficulties faced by the ORFU led to the women's team being
unfunded, resulting in a public campaign and support from
Otago All Black Adam Thomson to raise the funds necessary to
keep the Spirit in the national women's competition.
If anything, the situation the Otago women faced resulted in
a gain in support, increased profile and a following they
haven't had for a while. It pulled the players together and
hardened their resolve to perform and succeed. It attracted
past Black Ferns to return from overseas and contribute and
help the development of younger players. They truly showed
the Otago spirit.
In cycling, we have a group of young athletes who are
breaking into the elite ranks and who inevitably will
represent New Zealand at the highest level. The
brother-and-sister pair of James and Sophie Williamson, from
Alexandra, along with Patrick Jones, Tom Vessey, Liam
Aitcheson, Brad Evans and Katie Schofield, who came so close
to qualifying for the London Olympics, represent the future
of cycling, as does Matthew Scoles in downhill mountain
biking. These are followed by a group of emerging talent in
the form of Alysha Keith, Reta Trotman, Tom Bradshaw, Conor
Macfarlane, Shannon and Samantha Hope, just to name a few.
And don't forget other activities synonymous with Otago.
Central Otago is rapidly becoming the focus and base for
high-performance adaptive skiing, alpine ski racing,
freeskiing, snowboarding and cross-country disciplines.
We have the Wells brothers competing internationally and a
large contingent of world-ranked athletes in Adam Barwood,
Taylor Rapley, Willis Feasey, Piera Hudson, Andrew Pohl, Sam
Lee, Lyndon Sheehan, Hamish McDougall, Hamish Bagley, Janina
Kuzma, Rebecca Sinclair, Shelly Gotlieb and Carl Murphy, with
many more pushing them hard.
One element that all these well-performing Otago teams and
squads have in common is that they have homegrowncoaches.
These coaches are passionate about Otago and have instilled
in their players a ferocious commitment, hard-nosed defence,
rapid attack and counterattack, and the mental and physical
toughness of never giving in.
We have a new generation of emerging coaches and quality
experienced coaches who will lead Otago back to the top. Ryan
Martin (Otago Boys'), Debbie Tasi-Cordtz (netball), Tony
Brown and Phil Young (rugby), Lauren Piebenga (under-21
netball), Janine Southby (Steel), Simon Body (tennis), Andrew
Campbell and Jarrod Adams (athletics) and Tom Wilmott
(snowsports) are all doing fine work.
Too often, we overlook the time, the commitment, and the
sacrifices that our coaches make in dedicating their energy
in developing our local athletes. Through their coaching, the
environment they create and the faith they are putting into
our homegrown talent, our youth are responding by their
collective performance in the sporting arena.
Otago, a province with a proud sporting history, basks in
this reflected positive energy. We are all proud to be Otago.