The suspected deliberate scattering of broken glass on a Rotorua sports field set up for a school athletics day has left a child injured and an event organiser sickened.
Central Bay of Plenty Athletics Day organisers say most of the boundaries were set up on Monday evening for the next day’s event at the athletics track off Devon Rd, including 100 fencing standards and the MC’s tent.
“You could definitely tell an event was happening,” Lake City Athletics Club president Kelly Albrecht told the Rotorua Daily Post.
The annual one-day event hosted around 600 pupils from 30 Rotorua primary and intermediate schools and was eagerly anticipated by the young athletes.
On Tuesday morning, Albrecht received a message from the Rotorua Lakes Council saying there was damage to the athletics fields.
She said by the time she arrived, a groundsman already had a half-filled bucket of broken glass.
They walked around to find glass and broken bottles spread on the tracks, the discus area and the long-jump pit.
They ended up closing the pit, and Albrecht said all its sand may need to be replaced.
She said they got splinters picking up all the glass they could see, but some pieces were tiny – the size of a 50c coin and smaller, including “concerning” shards.
She said areas to avoid were spray-painted, but some were missed as the glass was only visible in certain angles and lighting.
“Because it was green it blended in with the grass.”
Albrecht said that throughout the day, kids and teachers found new patches of glass, meaning races were stopped for areas to be cleared.
“During the 200m races, a kid cut themselves on a piece of the glass.”
She said the cut was, fortunately, not bad.
The injury prompted races to be shut down again to clear the area, and another patch was found that the children had been running over. The lane was then shut down.
Glass ‘purposefully’ sprinkled on field
Albrecht said she believed the glass was smashed on concrete before it was picked up and scattered across the venue. She said the grass and sand were too soft to shatter bottles into such small shards.
“To me, it felt like a huge set-up … Whoever got in could see there was something that was going to be happening.
“They’ve purposefully gone in and sprinkled, in my opinion, this glass to purposefully hurt people,” she said.
“It’s quite sickening to think there are people out there that would want to spend their evening in the pouring-down rain, destroying a kids’ event.”
She said the whole day was set back by an hour as every heat needed to be shuffled due to the lane changes.
She said organisers did not call the event off as it would have been upsetting to the children who waited all year to showcase their talents and abilities.
She said she feared that if it could happen on a rainy evening like Monday, “I’m sure it could happen again”.
“Now I know someone or some people are willing to sabotage a kids’ event to hurt kids. It just means that anything could happen from now.”
She said glass was “really dangerous” and a child might never want to return to the track or compete if something happened to them.
“These kids deserve a safe environment.”
Albrecht also ran the three- to six-year-old athletics on Tuesday evening and warned families to bring shoes and be vigilant. There were no injuries.
“There’s still glass out there,” she said.
More cleaning up was needed with an event set to be held at the venue this weekend.
Glass appeared ‘strategically placed’ on field
Central Bay of Plenty school sports director Liz Savage agreed the glass appeared to have been “strategically placed” after they had finished setting up the night before the event.
Savage said what happened was “not cool” and it was lucky there were no more injuries and that the glass was spotted early, as the children ran barefoot.
She said the injured pupil went on to compete after she was cut by the glass.
Council infrastructure and environmental solutions group manager Stavros Michael said the council quickly informed the athletics club of the damage and staff from its contractor InfraCore were sent to clean up the “scattered glass”.
He said staff would continue to look for glass on the field as a precaution. The long-jump pit would be closed until further notice, and InfraCore would replace the sand.
He said council staff were reviewing CCTV footage and any relevant information would be shared with the police, who had been informed.
Michael said the field remained open to the public but urged people to wear footwear on the track.
A police spokesman confirmed the incident was reported on Wednesday.
Glass previously found in Rotorua playground
Rotorua’s Susan St playground previously had issues with glass left on the ground.
The council considered closing it in 2021, with contractors finding glass in the bark daily, apparently left on purpose to cause injury.
The same playground was repeatedly vandalised in 2017 and 2018, including broken glass buried in the bark.
The council spent $18,000 replacing the bark in 2019 and $15,000 in 2017.
Cira Olivier is a social issues and breaking news reporter for NZME Bay of Plenty. She has been a journalist since 2019.