With New Zealand now experiencing its first death from Covid-19, and cases still climbing daily with about 500 as I write, I fully support the Government's decision to go to alert 4 and a nationwide lockdown.

We must slow, contain and rid the virus from our shores as quickly as possible, with the least effect to lives, our health, the economy and our society.

I was literally sitting in a District Health Board's induction just three weeks ago, where the Minister of Health, the Honourable Dr David Clark and the Director General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, were briefing us on the seriousness of Covid-19.

But never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined I'd be in lockdown now.


I was at the offical briefing during the North Island Secondary School Rowing Champs, with 28 young New Plymouth school rowers in my care, when Rowing NZ briefed us on Covid-19 precautions, yet the general vibe I got was "yeah, right".

But only five days later, one of New Zealand's oldest and the largest secondary school sporting events, the Maadi Cup, with over 2200 rowers expected to converge on Lake Ruataniwha, in Twizel just two weeks later, was cancelled.

In fact, the NZ Secondary School Sports Council, under the banner School Sport NZ, has mostly cancelled, or postponed, over 48 different events, mainly in April (school holidays) but up until June 7, and that was prior to Covid-19 alert level 4.

These include such sports as secondary school tennis, waka ama, lawn bowls, athletics, futsal, water polo, mountain biking, and touch, to name just a few.

All of these events/activities would have involved countless hours of organisation, months and sometimes years of training, numerous volunteer and sport-specific time and input, booking accommodation, transport and logistics.

Some of that will not be fully refunded, let alone the private bookings made by parents and supporters to support their children.

For many of them, we hope they will get another day to return to that venue or another in 2021, all trained up and prepared again to give it their all to make a final and possibly earn a medal or win a NZSS title.

But for some, generally our current Year 13s, that final opportunity has gone, as they will be somewhere else in the big wide world in 2021, trying to get on with the next stage of their lives - be it study, jobs or even professional sporting careers.


A few examples of Whanganui-based Year 13 students impacted who I am aware of include:

• Phoebe Collier and Alyana de Fresne, both Year 13 Collegiate students who fortunately have rowed as Year 11 students at Lake Ruataniwha in Twizel, but would have gone to Maadi Cup this week as medal contenders.

Although Alyana is Under 17 and could consider coming back to school in 2021 to race Under 18, it may not be desirable for her.

• Tayla Brunger is also a Collegiate and New Zealand-selected Junior World Championship athlete, who has seen the North Island and presumably the New Zealand athletic champs cancelled, with the 2020 World Under 20 Athletic Championships in Kenya postponed until further notice.

• Ethan Bryers is a very talented Whanganui High School swimmer, who has had all his foreseeable events cancelled, like the NZ Age Group Championships and, of course, the swimmers have no pools open to train in, so it's just cross-training for them.

Ethan Bryers competes on the Whanganui High School swimming sports day.
Ethan Bryers competes on the Whanganui High School swimming sports day.

There will be other swimmers affected who have missed important and perhaps final school meets, like Lucy Somerville.


• Blake Hoskin is, a very talented WHS hockey player, who like many will have his sport-specific training on hold, with many games and competitions all under question at this stage.

There are, of course, many, many other young athletes who will have missed their last chance to represent their school in a North Island or NZSS summer sports event and with no idea if or when winter sports will get under way, there is more of the same to come for other codes like netball, football, rugby, and hockey.

For some young athletes, the repercussions go a bit further, regarding opportunities to make NZ Youth-type teams or gain United States college scholarship opportunities.

Of course, Covid-19 is bigger than sport and threatens life as we know it, and surely significantly challenges and changes our world going forward.

But it doesn't mean we shouldn't take a few moments to consider every effect, including on sport and the sporting ambitions on our youth.

We have people like Georgia Nugent-O'Leary, a former Nga Tawa Diocesan student and Aramoho Whanganui Rowing Club member, who has bravely fought back over the last two or three years from a major concussion injury after a cycling crash.


She was selected for the NZ Rowing Elite Women's quadruple scull crew and was preparing for regattas leading to the 2020 (now 2021) Tokyo Olympics.

Among many others, the near 42-year-old double Olympic single sculls champion in Mahe Drysdale now has to consider training 12 months longer to fulfil his (final?) Olympic dream of performing to distinction at the age of 43 in a very tough event.

Closer to home again, my son, Blake, and two of his peers, Leo Hanna and Charlotte McKinlay, came back to school as Year 14s, as they were Under 18 and eligible to race at Maadi Cup.

They were only at school for that reason but in doing so put other ambitions on hold. Needless to say, they have now finished school, having been named in a long-listed NZ Junior Trial Team, but are realistic about the chances of that final squad coming to fruition.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

My personal plea to many sporting codes is as you work through the myriad issues affecting your sport, from the huge financial cost to the social costs, try to look outside the square to find solutions to reward those who have put in the work.


In particular, the young athletes who may not get another chance to have a crack at a pinnacle race, match, or event they have worked tirelessly for - keeping in mind not just the physical, but their mental wellbeing.

I have been a bit surprised and disappointed to date that some sports haven't named "paper" or "tournament" teams, rather than just cancel the naming of squads, such as happened with NZ Rowing's North vs South Under 18 regatta.

I think we all accept there may be slightly more subjectivity in those teams than is ideal, but it is a small reward for the named athletes, which will help their schools recognise them more with sports awards while being a positive on their CV.

Where there's a will, there's a way!

My final words to those making the decisions around the future of some of these young athletes due to the unique challenges of Covid-19 is "put yourself in their shoes and please be extra caring, brave and inventive".