At 7.30pm on Friday, on a balmy Whanganui evening filled with a sense of celebration and expectation, Arthur Klap declared the 2019 New Zealand Masters Games open — 30 years after he staged the first Games in Whanganui.

He asked the large crowd gathered at the impressive Games village on the War Memorial Centre forecourt if they could understand how bold it was for Whanganui to put on the first Games in 1989.

"In the 1980s there were very few national sporting events in New Zealand, and none that promoted tourism," he said.

"The Games placed Whanganui at the sharp end of event tourism in the country."

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Now it was the largest and longest-running multisport event in New Zealand, he said.

Such events were usually run on a shoestring and he acknowledged the all-important support of major sponsor Downer this year.

Arthur Klap opens the 2019 Masters Games in Whanganui
Arthur Klap opens the 2019 Masters Games in Whanganui

In 1989, there were 30 sports and 1650 participants; this year we have 50 sports and an expected entry of more than 4000.

Games youth ambassador Jaime Mayberry, from Whanganui Collegiate, receives the Games flame from Vicki Kestila, manager of the Dunedin Masters Games
Games youth ambassador Jaime Mayberry, from Whanganui Collegiate, receives the Games flame from Vicki Kestila, manager of the Dunedin Masters Games

World champion rower, Sports Hall of Famer and district councillor Philippa Baker-Hogan read the oath in her role as chairwoman of the NZ Masters Games Company, while Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall paid tribute to former council chief executive Colin Whitlock, one of the driving forces behind those first Games, who died 10 days ago.

McDouall also noted the great sporting facilities available in the city — "the best in provincial New Zealand".

The competition started in earnest on Saturday and runs until next Sunday.

Masters Games ambassador Cindy Hoskin entertains the crowd.
Masters Games ambassador Cindy Hoskin entertains the crowd.
A large crowd gathered on the War Memorial Centre forecourt for the opening ceremony
A large crowd gathered on the War Memorial Centre forecourt for the opening ceremony