Maori Sports Awards organisers will campaign for one of last century's little known super athletes to be inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame.

John Hoani MacDonald won national honours in rowing, winning gold in the fours and silver in the eights at the 1930 Empire Games in Canada. Two years later he was the flag bearer at the LA Olympics where the eights missed a medal, finishing fourth.

Born in Blenheim in 1907 with Rangitane affiliations, the sportsman excelled at both rugby codes, playing for New Zealand Maori and carving out a professional league career in England. A huge tennis fan, whanau are trying to determine if he played at Wimbledon during World War II for a combined services team.

Sports awards executive director Dick Garrett said induction was long overdue. "He was a contemporary of George Nepia, but we just don't seem to recognise his super achievements."

Part of that lack of recognition could be because MacDonald lived abroad for 40 years, Mugwi MacDonald, an 80-year-old nephew, believes.

A 1947 Maori All Black himself, Mr MacDonald said his uncle was instrumental in getting him a contract to play league in England for Halifax in 1948.

He remembers a man who had exacting standards, and wasn't afraid to let his relations know it.

"He invited me to play a game of tennis at his club but I had to pass the test first. He took me to the public courts to see if I was good enough. He didn't want me to embarrass him.

"He was always a quiet sort of man, well built, well over six foot, I do believe all the girls used to love him."

The MacDonalds are supporting the push to see John, who was also known as Jack, inducted.

"He was an amazing man. I'd love to see him in there, we're very proud of our uncle."

Hall of Fame chief executive Ron Palenski said MacDonald had not been nominated yet, however, the judging panel's standard was high as nominees had to have won a world title or its equivalent.

Mr Palenski wouldn't speculate on MacDonald's chances of success - that would be up to the judging panel, he said.

However, MacDonald was a leading character from a family that in successive generations included national basketball and netball representatives, as well as All Blacks Leon MacDonald and Jamie Joseph, Mr Palenski said.

Australian Idol winner Stan Walker will perform at the awards tonight at the TelstraClear Pacific Events Centre in Manukau.

Nominees include league player Benji Marshall, netball player Temepara George and rower Storm Uru.

JOHN HOANI MACDONALD
* Born 1907, died 1982, aged 75
* NZ rowing medallist: Gold at 1930 Empire Games Canada, Silver at 1932 Los Angeles Olympics
* Maori All Black: 1926, 1929, 1931, 1934, 193