Club rewarded for its whanau first approach

‘‘How are we innovative? How are we different?

‘‘For us it has always been normal,’’ said South Pacific Rugby League and Sports Club chairwoman Gianna Leoni when she learned her club was being honoured at the ASB Otago Sports Awards.

The club has claimed the University of Otago Innovation in Sport Award. That follows being named grassroots club of the year at the New Zealand Rugby League Awards in 2018.

What makes South Pacific a trailblazer is that the bricks and mortar which hold the club together are not made of bricks and mortar.

There are no clubrooms — it is whanau and the family-orientated culture which glues the people together.

No clubrooms means no real fixed costs. During the Covid-19 lockdown, South Pacific had no expenses. None.

The club is home to rugby league players, basketballers, netballers, softballers, volleyballers and touch rugby players.

A lot of the 120 or so club members play several sports and it is a club first, team second set-up.

‘‘It is huge for us,’’ Leoni said when asked what the award meant to the club.

‘‘We often find that we go under the radar in terms of community sport because we don’t concentrate on rugby, so it is nice to receive that acknowledgement.

‘‘We’ve always been a family-orientated, whanau-type club. That is where our main motivation and drive comes from.

‘‘It is really important for us to provide opportunities outside of sport — to hang out and socialise. Sharing food together is a big part of what we do.’’

Members of the South Pacific Rugby League and Sports club (from left): David Reedy, Kylie Maihi,...
Members of the South Pacific Rugby League and Sports club (from left): David Reedy, Kylie Maihi, Jordan Maihi (3), Manassah Kutia, Gianna Leoni, Rangiaho Tahau (6 months), Shaun Tahau, Maine Mareko-Johnson, Corey Senelake and Georgia Te Au, celebrated the University of Otago Innovation in Sport award. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH

South Pacific has developed a relationship with the Alhambra-Union Rugby Football Club and go to its clubrooms ‘‘as much as possible’’.

‘‘It is not our home but it has been a lovely relationship for us.’’

South Pacific, in many ways, is the prototype of a future sports club. It is home to a wide diversity of sporting codes and it is not weighed down by overheads which are slowly dragging down many other clubs.

The club was founded in 1994 by Leoni’s father, Grant, and some of his friends, who decided to start a rugby league team. It expanded into basketball in the mid-2000s.

‘‘It started with rugby league but then we all wanted to play basketball with each other. The same thing happened with netball in 2016 and other sports are now played.

‘‘We thought we’d have one netball team. We ended up having three and now we’ve got six.

University of Otago professor and deputy vice-chancellor external engagement Helen Nicholson said the university was a proud sponsor of the innovation in sport award.

‘‘As a university, Otago strives to encourage and foster an environment where our staff and students can be innovative, and this is something that we are delighted to share and support in our wider community,’’ she said.

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