Sport, in media coverage at least, is an activity for the young. In real life it is not so. Sport for many is a lifelong pursuit, providing many years of pleasure and exercise long after the participants have passed the physical prime they reached in their late teens, 20s and early 30s.

The World Masters Games that begin in Auckland today is a celebration of lifelong sport.

The Games, held in a different part of the world every four years, are a kind of Olympics for competitors over the age of 35. Regularly attracting more participants than the Olympics, the Masters Games can claim to be the biggest multi-sport event in the world.

The 25,000 competitors from 100 countries who will compete in Auckland and Waikato over the next 10 days are "athletes" in spirit if not in physique in many cases.

Advertisement

They are sporting men and women in the best sense, enjoying the fellowship of competition as much as any successes they can achieve.

Some of them have known a high level of success at their peak. Now they have put that memory into mature perspective, acknowledging it modestly when others remind them of it but savouring the less demanding and, in many ways more wholesome, experience of sport they have enjoyed ever since.

The frustrations that come with declining strength, vision and co-ordination only increase the appreciation of the skills sports require, and the delight on those occasions that, momentarily, the old touch returns.

It is not until later in life that many realise the truth of Rudyard Kipling's observation, triumph and disaster are both "impostors". It does not pay to dwell on either of them too much.

There is much more lasting satisfaction to be found in sport and life than their fleeting moments of success or failure.

The World Masters Games could not have a better model for New Zealanders than Sir Peter Snell.

Here to compete in table tennis, the great middle-distance runner presented two of his three Olympic gold medals and a dozen other items of athletic memorabilia to Te Papa this week.

He did so with the modesty and grace of a true sportsman, expressing genuine surprise that the museum bid as much as $122,500 two years ago for a track singlet it thought had been his.

Had he still possessed the genuine article he no doubt would have given it to the country for nothing, as he did this week with a running shoe handcrafted by his coach, Arthur Lydiard.

Not many of those in the Masters Games will have competed at a real Olympics. This event was open to anybody who paid an entry fee, more than 10,000 New Zealanders have done so.

Two thirds of the $36 million cost of the event is being met by the Government and the Auckland Council. With 18,700 visitors to the city it is expected to generate $30 million for Auckland's economy.

It may be the biggest sports event the city has seen since the 2011 Rugby World Cup but, like it, the economic gain may pale beside the pleasure of hosting so many enthusiasts.

More than 3000 Aucklanders have volunteered to help the games run smoothly. Many others will meet happy bands of sporting veterans over the next two weeks. Applaud them for playing purely for fun.