Winter Masters Games plans span province

Otago could soon play host to a second international celebration of winter sports, with plans being drawn up for a Winter Masters Games, at venues across Dunedin and Central Otago.

New Zealand Masters Games director John Bezett, also a Dunedin city councillor and chairman of the Dunedin Masters Games, yesterday confirmed discussions on staging the event were under way.

If the games proceeded, he said, they would be at venues in Dunedin, Queenstown, Wanaka and Naseby in July or August 2011, and could draw 2000 competitors from New Zealand and internationally.

"We believe it will be a true international event. There will be no question people will come out from different parts of the world," he said.

The winter masters event would be scheduled for a week before or after the separate Winter Games New Zealand, which were held for the first time in the region in August last year, he said.

The aim would be to attract older competitors to the region for the Masters events, alongside younger competitors coming for the Winter Games.

The Winter Masters Games would start slowly, featuring "four or five" events spread between Queenstown and Wanaka, including cross-country and downhill skiing, ice hockey and "something like rugby or netball", Mr Bezett said.

Curling could be staged at Naseby, kayaking in the Kawarau Gorge, with a multiday cycling race on the Otago Central Rail Trail, he said.

A relay event could extend the endurance event to Dunedin, where "four or five" more events would be staged at the Dunedin Ice Stadium, he said.

However, the aim would be to grow the event if it was supported, adding extra events and drawing more competitors, Mr Bezett said.

"If it's supported by a lot of masters people, and it works really well, then we can build on that," he said.

"We just have to test the waters."

The games would also help organisers secure key staff, who in past years had to be "let go" when each summer masters games ended, he said.

The idea of a Winter Masters Games was first discussed five years ago, with a feasibility study finding widespread support.

No funding and a focus on the summer New Zealand Masters Games meant there had been no progress until now.

He discussed the idea again with Winter Games New Zealand Trust chief executive Arthur Klap and chairman Eion Edgar three weeks ago, and planned to meet again next week about specifics.

Mr Klap is yet to confirm a second Winter Games New Zealand would be staged next year, after saying on June 11 he was "super close" to an announcement. Mr Bezett said it was "looking pretty good".

If their support was forthcoming, Mr Bezett said more detailed planning, including sourcing funding, would start immediately, with a decision to proceed within "two or three months".

"Everyone I have talked to about it is quite enthusiastic . . . I'm really enthusiastic about it. I think it has the potential to be a really, really good event," he said.

This year's New Zealand Masters Games, held in Dunedin from January 30 to February 7, made a profit of $58,000 after attracting 6404 competitors.

Almost half of those people came from beyond Dunedin, bringing about 1500 supporters, and together contributing about $5 million to the Dunedin economy, Mr Bezett said.



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