Organisers of the 61st Golden Shears in Masterton next week are reminding competitors of the advantages of getting entries in this week despite uncertainty created by the coronavirus crisis.
Entries after Thursday incur the late fee of 50 per cent, and president Sam Saunders says late entries risk missing the cut for the March 4-6 championships in Masterton's War Memorial Stadium, where the Golden Shears have been held each year since the inception in 1961.
Open shearing champion Rowland Smith leads the Hawke's Bay prospects as he goes for an eighth win in the glamour event, continuing the region's grip on the title going back to Napier shearer John Kirkpatrick's 2002 win, ending the run of 12 consecutive wins by Te Kuiti shearer David Fagan.
Now aged 50, four-time winner Kirkpatrick is chasing the title again, with son-in-law Ricci Stevens among the opposition and daughter Angela Stevens chasing open woolhandling honours.
Highlighting the difficulties facing event organisers, in whatever sphere, Saunders said that whether on-time or late competitors won't be risking losing their money if Covid-19 alert levels are stepped up and force what would be the Golden Shears first-ever cancellation.
"We wouldn't be able to run if the alert was level 2 or greater," said Saunders, still wondering about the impacts for an event that attracts over 300 competitors each year, and is run on a budget of about $250,000.
"If we have to cancel, everyone will be refunded. If people have paid their entries and something happened we would pay them back."
"We wouldn't want to see anyone out of pocket – not our sheep suppliers, our sponsors or the competitors," he said.
While the number of entries received wasn't able to be confirmed on Tuesday, Saunders said he believes some competitors are waiting to see what unfolds over the next few days.
More community cases of the virus wasn't encouraging, but it was confined to Auckland, and Golden Shears retains the hope that the championships won't be hit any further, although Saunders conceded: "Nobody knows. We just keep our fingers crossed, but I think it will go ahead."
Last year the celebration of 60 years of Golden Shears took place amid rapidly growing fears of the arrival of Covid-19 in New Zealand, and the 2019-20 season survived just one more week before the lockdown was imposed later in the month.
Golden Shears entries peaked at about 580 shearers around the second World Championships in 1980, when sheep numbers were nearing the 1982 peak of 70 million.
With the ovine population now hovering around 27 million, competitor numbers have declined, but the more-than 300 shearers, woolhandlers, and pressers each year help the championships retain the image of being the holy grail of shearing sports worldwide.
Many of this year's hopefuls will also be taking part in the four-day build-up, at the Taumarunui Shears on Friday, the Apiti Sports shearing and woolhandling championships on Saturday, the 50th Pahiatua Shears shearing championships on Sunday, and the Wairarapa Pre-Shears Woolhandling Championships next Wednesday.