Time for Hall to be backed

The New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame 
faces an uncertain future. 
The New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame faces an uncertain future. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
It is something of an irony that contained within Dunedin’s most well-known building is one of the city’s least-appreciated treasures.

The New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame seems like it has been around forever, but it only opened — in its physical form; it had been a concept for nine years by that stage — at the Dunedin Railway Station in 1999.

It is a wonderful place, soaked in the history and drama and cultural relevance of New Zealand’s sporting history.

Its self-proclaimed aim is "to honour, to preserve, to educate, to inspire", and it has done everything in its power to do that.

The Hall honours those men and women, individuals and teams, athletes and coaches, who have performed wondrous feats on the highest stage; it preserves some remarkable pieces of memorabilia, including large collections from immortals Peter Snell and Yvette Williams; it educates the public, young and old, on the events that shaped our sporting landscape; and it inspires the next generation to strive to be champions.

It has also developed into a museum as much as a hall of fame, seen as the place where pieces of sports treasure should be cared for and displayed.

And it might be gone soon.

Hall of Fame management have sounded the alarm bell. It may close in five weeks if it cannot find significant funding — another $150,000 is needed each year — from either central or local agencies.

This is not a new lament from the Hall, which has operated on a shoestring since it opened.

In his 2014 annual report, chief executive Ron Palenski — the elder statesman of New Zealand sportswriting, who has done so much with wife Kathy to keep the Hall thriving — wrote of his fears the Hall had an uncertain future as it needed "more recognition and with greater recognition should come greater financial support."

Four years later, also in the annual report, Palenski returned to the theme of the Hall not getting enough financial backing.

"There is ample goodwill for the Hall and for the general concept of what the Hall stands for — remembering and honouring our greatest sports achievers — but the goodwill is not backed up by people or companies willing to put their money where their memories are."

It will be a great shame if these years of warning are followed by the "Closed" sign being erected in front of the Hall, permanently or temporarily.

The Dunedin City Council had the foresight to take the lead on finding the Hall a home 21 years ago; should it not now be taking the lead on securing its future?

And, given the millions of dollars sloshing around the sporting sector, why is the Government — in the form of that rather nebulous organisation, Sport New Zealand — even hesitating to commit what is effectively a drop in the financial bucket to protect one of its taonga?

Sport is a popular political tool when times are good, when victories are being celebrated. It’s a shame the cheque signers and hand shakers disappear when times get tough.

Secured funding is just the start. The Hall could also do with some backing for a revitalised marketing campaign, to ensure everyone knows where it is, and what it does.

We hope it can continue to honour, to preserve, to educate, to inspire generations to come.

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