For the second year in a row, Covid-19 has thwarted plans to hold the Anchor AIMS Games, with the annual intermediate-aged sports tournament cancelled for 2021.
The week-long Tauranga-based tournament was to have started on September 4 but the current nationwide level 4 lockdown meant there was no way it could safely continue.
Tournament director Vicki Semple said they were gutted for so many people.
"For the supporting schools, businesses, the incredible code-coordinators, the national sporting bodies, the supporters and most of all, the athletes themselves.
"The sports coordinators have worked tirelessly for the best part of a year to build their teams and set things in place but our greater consideration is for the good of all New Zealanders and there's no way we want to compromise or jeopardise our wider fight against Covid-19," she said.
For the tournament to go ahead, all of New Zealand needs to be at alert level 1. Postponing was not an option, with 25,000 people to accommodate, 1800 officials to organise and 29 venues to be available at the same time.
This year's tournament again received more than 11,000 entries from around the country, from Taipa in Northland to Gore in Southland. While she knows so many athletes will be devastated by the decision, Semple has urged them to focus on the positives.
"It's been extraordinary to see the overwhelming support from schools and communities this year, with many athletes fundraising and in training since the start of the year.
"We've been incredibly lucky to have six months without community spread of Covid-19, where our youth have been able to have relatively normal lives and experience all the good things about sport and activity, in the face of a global pandemic.
"We're so proud the AIMS Games has given them hope, purpose and motivation, which no cancellation can take away."
Semple has already received huge encouragement from principals and schools, who have had to juggle the expectation of students and parents with the realities of risk and welfare.
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AIMS Games Trust chairman and Otumoetai Intermediate principal Henk Popping said, in many ways, this year's decision was far easier to make than last year's cancellation, which was made three months before the tournament was to have taken place.
"Going to level 4 was an immediate indication of how seriously we needed to take this latest outbreak and we just need to put our faith in our health officials and political leaders who've navigated us through so far," Popping said.
"It's also a stark reminder that sport and recreation is a luxury - one that is incredibly important, of course, but it pales in comparison to the health concerns Covid-19 creates."
Semple was confident the tournament still had a huge future role in New Zealand's sporting environment, with sponsors and schools alike already pledging their support for the 2022 games.
So why not just postpone?
We'd love to, honestly, but the sheer magnitude of the tournament prevents this. We need the perfect window, between sporting seasons and with all 29 venues free for the same week, along with nearly 1800 officials, many of whom have taken leave to attend.
In reality, it takes the best part of a year to align this and to try to accommodate 25,000 visitors to Tauranga all in one week. To postpone - notwithstanding the uncertainty of any future date - would be to severely compromise the overall quality and lustre of the tournament.
Does the AIMS Games still have a future?
Unquestionably, yes. What has been clear this year is how big an impact this tournament has on New Zealanders. The feedback from schools and communities over the past six months has been extraordinary - the trainings and team-buildings, the fundraisings and the amazing tales; from the school in Auckland that raised $61,000 with a fun run, to the community in Southland that made and sold 6960 cheese rolls to send its basketball team away.
It has already provided an incredible journey for so many of the 11,000 athletes, giving them hope, purpose and motivation which no cancellation can take away.
Why not just exclude the areas affected by Covid-19?
Because we pride ourselves on our inclusivity and this tournament is for all New Zealanders. Any compromise on that ethos would completely undermine the mana of the tournament.