Organisers of the Anchor AIMS Games have bowed to the inevitable and postponed this year's national intermediate-aged sports tournament until 2021.
Tournament director Vicki Semple explained it was the hardest decision the AIMS Games trustees have ever had to make in the 17-year history of the event but the Covid-19 global pandemic had made hosting the Tauranga-based tournament untenable.
"We've spent the past two months going through every possible scenario and agonising over what this decision means to our athletes, our schools, our supporters, our sponsors, local businesses and our contractors," Semple said.
"The stark reality is that we just couldn't confidently host more than 11,000 athletes in September while upholding the high standards of wellbeing we've set in previous years.
"And this pandemic is so much bigger than sport - not only have we had to weigh up things like training and preparation lead-ins for athletes but we've considered the likely economic impact on families and how prepared they are to send their kids away for a week with uncertainty hanging over them. There are still just so many unknowns and no-one really knows how this is all going to play out."
Feedback from schools had also been pivotal in making the decision, as had advice from relevant health authorities, School Sport NZ and national sporting bodies, said Semple.
Winter sports programmes are only just being devised now, at a time when schools are usually starting trials and selecting AIMS Games teams.
AIMS Games Trust chairman and Otumoetai Intermediate principal Henk Popping said it was a clear case of weighing up the hopes and aspirations of athletes, against the overall benefit to Tauranga and the country as a whole.
"The pressure on staff and wider school communities is immense and the challenge for the rest of the year will be delivering the core curriculum and supporting our families and students through some tough times," Popping explained.
"We all know how important sport is to our society and the incredible benefits that it provides but given the bigger picture, we felt running the tournament this year would create more risks and uncertainty, rather than rewards, and we certainly don't want to put any more pressure on schools and families."
Tauranga Mayor Tenby Powell said the city loved hosting the AIMS Games, a highlight in Tauranga's events calendar, but there were just too many complicating factors.
"As one of the event's strategic partners, we're hugely disappointed the event has to be postponed but we're fully aware of and accept the reasons for postponing this year's tournament," he said.
"The AIMS Games brings quite extraordinary cultural, sporting and economic value to the Tauranga community and we not only look forward to welcoming it back in 2021 but also building on the phenomenal success of past years' events."
Semple said yesterday's Government announcement allowing up to 100 people to congregate showed how extraordinary the collective efforts of the nation had been.
"That we've come so far, so fast during a global pandemic and we're about to restart community sport shows how seriously New Zealanders have taken this.
"Unfortunately for AIMS Games, we've already lost the best part of three months' preparation, with no certainty when we will be fully functional and clear of the second wave of cases."
She added the support of sponsors and partners had also been crucial to making the decision, while they weighed up a number of factors, such as:
• travel restrictions and flight availability to and from Tauranga;
• the risks associated with large teams travelling and staying together;
• Bay of Plenty's low rates of Covid-19 infection;
• the scale of the 23 Anchor AIMS Games codes, many of which have in excess of 1000 athletes each;
• the availability and condition of venues, given that winter sports are likely to extend through the AIMS Games window;
• the costs to participating families, schools and the sporting organisations, at a time of great financial uncertainty;
• the reliance on large numbers of volunteers to run AIMS Games, many of who take annual leave and are in the most vulnerable age groups;
• the already disrupted school curriculums.
Registrations for this year's tournament were to close on June 10 and numbers had already been well down, with just 60 schools having signed up, compared to 190 at the same stage last year.
Semple has already received a number of emails from schools indicating that cost and the limited support from hard-hit communities would prevent them from attending this year.
The next Anchor AIMS Games will be held from September 4 to September 10, 2021.