Masters of their domain

They flock to Dunedin in their thousands every other year.

They dust off old running shoes and rackets, and they wind a bit more tape than normal around some creaking knees and ankles.

They run and they jump and they swim and they kick the ball and they dream about former glory and past deeds and they chase new success and achievement.

They greet old team-mates and friends, and make new ones, and have a laugh.

They are the 5000-odd competitors in the New Zealand Masters Games, the largest multi-sport event in the country that alternates between Dunedin and Whanganui, and is in its 31st year.

The games, running until Sunday, feature no fewer than 64 competitive and fun events, for both summer and winter codes. And, while the image of masters sport might be of the silver-haired brigade battling away, the variety of events — including some like swimming and gymnastics that normally feature very early competitive retirement ages — means competitors range from 18 to 90.

Age is genuinely just a number when it comes to the Masters Games. There are few obstacles to taking part, and no real social barriers to overcome. If you want to play or compete, you do so with no pressure or expectation. (Though gold medals are rightly still treasured.)

This could be said to be sport at its purest: the athletes are truly here for the love of the game. No bright lights, television cameras or hefty salaries are required.

It reminds us that sport — any form of physical activity, really — is not the preserve of the young, the ridiculously toned, the wealthy, the insanely skilled; it is for everyone.

The social attraction of sport is also on full display. There will be some shenanigans this week, and some tall stories told.

The games are also an undoubted economic boon for Dunedin as so many come from far afield and spend up large on accommodation and hospitality.

Sport is a changing beast in the third decade of the millennium. The old ways and the old codes are under attack from all corners as seismic societal changes take hold.

The Masters Games are both a throwback and a pointer to a future in which sport is largely about fun, participation, having a run and a laugh and an after-match refreshment, and less about the almighty dollar and the all-conquering drive for victory. That’s not a bad thing, is it?

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