Leadership enabling Otago females to rise to top

Elsie Anderson, of Wakatipu High School, makes a tackle
Elsie Anderson, of Wakatipu High School, makes a tackle. Photo: ODT
Men - a plate, please.

Otago has a proud sporting history and the province has produced some wonderful champions.

Yvette Corlett's (nee Williams) jump for gold at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics is etched in our national psyche.

Alison Palmer's (nee Shanks) transformation from promising netballer to world-class cyclist was a compelling story which produced two world championship gold medals and a Commonwealth Games gold medal.

Cricketer Suzie Bates has helped redefine the women's game in her role as one of the leading players in the world.

There have been a few useful blokes over the years as well. Danyon Loader's double golden effort at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 was handy.

Rower turned cyclist and back to rower again Hamish Bond has collected one or two medals during a remarkable and ongoing career.

Bert Sutcliffe, Glenn Turner and Brendon McCullum could all bat a bit, while All Blacks Jeff Wilson and Ben Smith have beaten a few defenders.

Rebecca Dean, also of Otago Girls', moves in to a shot
Rebecca Dean, also of Otago Girls', moves in to a shot. Photo: ODT
Sailor Sir Russell Coutts was always on top of a wind change.

But lately it has been Otago's female athletes who are leading the way.

All three finalists in the Otago Sports Awards team of the year category are women's sides.

The unheralded Dunedin Technical shocked heavy favourite Forrest Hill Milford United 4-2 in the final of the Kate Sheppard Cup.

That storyline was too fanciful to imagine prior to the goals pouring in one after the other.

The Southern Steel scored seven unanswered goals in the final stretch of the ANZ Premiership against the Central Pulse to collect back-to-back titles. That was a dramatic watch for everyone.

And the Gold Rush rebounded from a slow start to the campaign to claim the Women's Basketball Championship title.

The excellence does not stop there. The sportswoman and junior sportswoman of the year categories are just as strong.

Otago Girls' High School centre Caitlin Thomson prepares to pass the ball. Photos: ODT files
Otago Girls' High School centre Caitlin Thomson prepares to pass the ball. Photos: ODT files
Commonwealth Games javelin silver medallist Holly Robinson and Winter X Games gold medallist Zoi Sadowski-Synnott shape as the favourites in the former category.

In the junior ranks, alpine skier Robinson will be challenged by national basketball representative Nicole Ruske and rising cyclist Ella Harris, who has recently signed a professional contract with a German team.

Sport Otago business development officer Michael Smith believes having three female finalists in the team of the year category is probably a first.

''I couldn't be 100% sure ... but from my recollection it is,'' he said.

Smith was certain the rise of female teams was not purely down to chance, though. He believes Otago is a leader when it comes to promoting and fostering women's sport.

''I think what we are doing for female sport in Otago has shown leadership in that area and has something to do with it.

''And it is the people behind it. A classic example is the Dunedin Tech side. The time and effort that a few individuals have put in for the women's game at the club has really paid off.

Columba College's Niamh Paterson loses the ball forward in the tackle of Central Southland...
Columba College's Niamh Paterson loses the ball forward in the tackle of Central Southland College player Taylah Rutherford. Photo: ODT

''The Steel is a team that has done really well in the last two years ... and the Gold Rush had a great year. So it might be a perfect storm but I definitely think it has something to do with the way we are leading in women's sport.''

It is not just happening in Otago, though. The drive for more equality in sport is coming from a national level. Sport New Zealand has set clear guidelines around diversity targets.

Regional sporting bodies will have to demonstrate a commitment to achieving a minimum of 40% female representation on boards by December 2021 in order to secure funding.

And it wants to see clear plans for how regional bodies will go about raising the profile and increase positive attitudes towards gender equality in sport.

Smith felt Otago was ahead of the game in that sense. The hard work done in the secondary school space and a willingness by the likes of Otago Rugby Football Union, Football South, Netball South and the Otago Cricket Association to put time into the women's game was pleasing.

''They have really jumped on board and have not needed too much encouraging. Nicki Paterson and her team at the Otago Secondary Sports Association are doing a great job with girls' sport.

''We've got a huge participation rate through that.

''And I think we do have a bit of an attitude down here to get out and be active as well.''

Growth in participation of females

Otago sporting bodies are experiencing some impressive growth in female participation.

  • The Girls Smash programme was introduced three years ago and has expanded to 91 teams involving 728 participants.
  • The Dunedin secondary schools competition has more than doubled. It has expanded from five teams in the 2017-18 season to 11 teams in 2018-19. The intermediate girls’ competition has also grown from six to eight teams in the same period.
  • In the 2018-19 season, a minimum of two female board members were appointed to each district association board and the Otago Cricket Association board.


  • Registered female player numbers throughout Otago increased from 1278 to 1400 in 2017, and from 1400to 1551 last year.
  • The final numbers for 2019 registrations are unavailable but there has been strong growth in teams entered in the mid-week metropolitan secondary school girls seven-a-side competition. It is up from 14 in 2018 to 20 teams this year.
  • The Otago Rugby Football Union established ajunior girls participation role in 2018 to assist, to promote and grow the game. The programme was trialled in the Dunedin metropolitan area during 2018 and has expanded to include all of Otago in 2019.


  • Club netball has experienced tremendous growth since 2015. It has grown from 45 teams (495 players) to 66 teams (726) this year.
  • Dunedin operations manager Joyce Andrew puts the growth down ‘‘to the expansion in clubs affiliated with us’’. The top seven secondary school teams play in the senior grades and were included in the count.


  • Basketball Otago piloted a Basketball New Zealand programme called Girls Got Game in term 4 of 2018 for girls aged 5-8. It has been rolled out nationwide. There are 20-30 girls involved in the Otago programme.
  • In 2018 ,Basketball Otago had just under 800 females involved in the sport from school-aged children through to seniors in the Dunedin area. Data for 2019 is still be collated.

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