Why the ILT Southland Sports Awards are so important
Just over a week ago we celebrated an outstanding past 12 months in Southland sport.
The ILT Southland Sports Awards, presented by Sport Southland on behalf of the Southland Amateur Sports Trust, have been in existence since 1953 – the longest running awards of their kind in New Zealand.
Over the years they have developed from a get together over a couple of sausage rolls to an evening of entertainment and celebration – the sort of occasion befitting a province which is proud of its sporting excellence.
Anyone involved in sport understands that the landscape is changing. Society is changing. Our communities are changing. And traditional sport needs to change as well, if it is to remain relevant.
We’ve talked about these things before, and we’ve highlighted examples of the way that sport is changing to meet the challenges presented by increasingly busy lifestyles, technology and a range of other barriers which are threatening participation.
You will have heard words like ‘wellbeing’ and ‘holistic approach’ used, words which are relatively new in the lexicon of sport.
And you can see this being borne out in any number of ways.
Sports are increasingly ensuring that the environment around the game makes it easier for people to be healthy.
They are modifying games to make them more attractive to a wider range of children and adults, and talking to participants to understand what will keep them engaged.
And they are moving away from specialisation and the traditional representation model at junior levels in order to keep as many children as possible playing sport for longer.
There’s strong evidence to support the future success of these and other new approaches, but you are likely to hear some push back, because that’s the nature of change.
So, sport is changing, and that’s not a bad thing.
What we don’t want however, is to lose those things which have made sport such a meaningful part of life in Southland.
One of those aspects is our ability to achieve on a national and international level, and the excitement and inspiration which our community draws from that.
We’ve seen how the New Zealand cricket and netball teams have brought the nation together over the past couple of weeks.
At a provincial level, it’s just the same.
To win national titles in basketball and netball in the same year is exceptional, especially considering both the Southland Sharks and Southern Steel were underdogs in their respective 2018 grand finals.
We continue to be a powerhouse in cycling, with multiple finalists across the categories and it was wonderful to have Olympic, Commonwealth Games and world champion medalist Eddie Dawkins, a former Southland sportsperson of the year, at the awards.
A number of our category winners – Tom Scully, Alena Saili, Josh Burnett, Emma Cumming and Natasha Hansen – were unable to be at the awards because they are overseas representing us on the world stage.
However, the breadth of achievement was as impressive as the depth.
Sixteen sports were represented across the categories. Eight sports were included amongst the finalists in the Junior Sportsperson of the Year category alone.
A lot of resource – volunteer hours, community funding, sponsorship – goes into making sport happen in Southland, but every year we can see the return on investment when the sporting community comes together to celebrate their collective achievements.
The work will continue to ensure that as many children as possible remain engaged in sport, with pathways in place to ensure that the next Tom Scully or Alena Saili can reach the top of their game.
The challenges have changed, but sport is adapting, and Southland will continue to be a breeding ground for some of the best athletes, coaches and officials on the planet.