Children's sporting festival to boost Whanganui

By Mark Dawson

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A sporting festival for schoolchildren in Whanganui could attract more than 3500 youngsters and add more than $2.5 million to the local economy.

The Youth Games are less than 12 months away and mark an ambitious attempt to create a sporting event of national significance.

Planned for June 5-9 next year, the festival has been inspired by the AIMS Games, a week-long event for intermediate age children held in Tauranga.

Now in its 14th year, the AIMS Games had more than 8000 competitors last year and this September, with 271 schools registered, will be host to 9300 boys and girls.

The Youth Games, which will comprise 12 sports and is for Year 9 and 10 children, is being organised by local cricket development manager Dilan Raj and Whanganui High School teacher Andrew Lock.

Concerned about the drop-off in sporting participation when children move to secondary school, they will target the 25 secondary schools in Whanganui and Manawatu, plus 86 schools across Wellington, Taranaki, Hawke's Bay, Wairarapa and Bay of Plenty.

Mr Raj estimates the games could pull 1500 participants from Whanganui-Manawatu and 2000 from the other districts which would fill all available accommodation in Whanganui.

Based on Visit Whanganui's estimate of the spending power of visitors, that would see more than $2.5m spent in the River City over the five days of competition.

"We have great facilities and venues here in Whanganui - we are spoilt for choice - and we have the support of the 12 sporting codes," Mr Raj told the Chronicle.

"And two months out from the games, through the registrations, we would know exactly how many people are coming which would give tourist operators, accommodation providers and other services the chance to promote themselves.

"Our figures are based on the number of competitors but, of course, a lot of parents and supporters will also come here, so we will market it as a family event."

The event, which is also supported by Sport Whanganui, aims to break even, with any profit going to the local sports bodies. There will be an opening ceremony and events will be live-streamed on Facebook.

As well as boosting Whanganui's position as a destination, the Youth Games aim to bring youngsters back to sport and, to that end, they have the backing of NZ hockey and White Ferns cricket international Sophie Devine and netball superstar Irene van Dyk.

"There is a lot of evidence of the number of negative social issues that arise when kids drop out of sport and both Sophie and Irene have spoken to us about their concerns," Mr Raj said.

"Keeping kids doing sport helps with discipline, motivation, good habits and combats obesity."

The games are supported by H&A Print which has offered printing services, and Two Monkeys website design that will, hopefully, have the www.youthgames.co.nz website up in a couple of weeks.

"We are looking for a major sponsor," Mr Raj said. "The AIMS Games have the NZ Community Trust and we would like a suitable partner."

■Information on the Youth Games is available by emailing info@youthgames.co.nz

- Wanganui Chronicle

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