Opinion: Otago athletics needs to fight its corner

Athletics New Zealand's decision to hold its major events in the North Island over the next two years could have serious ramifications for the sport. Alistair McMurran suggests Otago athletics should follow the lead of rowing if it wants to get a fair go.

Otago athletics must protest strongly. It could become a backwater if most of the major national championships are held in the North Island.

In the past, every main city took its turn to host the championships, and every centre had its time in the spotlight.

A provincial centre needs its chance to host the national championships to give the local fans a chance to see world-class athletes like Valerie Adams and Nick Willis in action.

The championships give a boost to the sport in the local area by putting it in the spotlight and giving it an enhanced media profile.

Otago athletics should follow in the footsteps of the Otago Rowing Association, which led a South Island protest movement when there was a move by North Island rowing interests to hold all New Zealand championships at Lake Karapiro.

The move came after a successful world rowing championships had been held at the Cambridge lake in 1978. It had world-class facilities at the time.

The Otago protest was led by the late Mont Poulter, who maintained rowing in the South Island would suffer if no high-profile national events were held here.

Poulter's protest turned the South Island Rowing Association into an effective pressure group and eventually to the formation of Lake Ruataniwha, which has become one of the best rowing lakes in the world.

Poulter was like a terrier. He refused to let go of the issue until Rowing New Zealand saw the light.

The protest reached the ears of Max Smith, the project engineer in charge of the Waitaki Hydro projects. He took it on himself to put in the basic requirements to turn Lake Ruataniwha into a top-class rowing lake.

Smith was far-sighted and his decision effectively saved the town of Twizel, which had been destined for dismantling.

Twizel was built to house construction workers during the building of the Upper Waitaki hydro scheme. It is now a major sporting and tourist destination.

Every year, Ruataniwha hosts a major regatta - either the Maadi Cup or the New Zealand championships. All the major South Island regattas are held there.

None of this would have happened if South Island rowing administrators had meekly accepted the plan of North Island rowing interests to stage all major events at Lake Karapiro.

Otago athletics administrators need to keep hammering on the door of Athletics New Zealand until they get a fair go for the regional centres.

- Alistair McMurran, as well as being a long-serving Otago Daily Times reporter, has also been a successful athlete and athletics coach. He has mentored hundreds of athletes, and the highlight of his career was helping prepare Dick Tayler to win Commonwealth Games gold in the 10,000m in 1974.

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