More than 4000 competitors, 53 events, 100 volunteers, 10 days: Amid final preparations for the 2017 New Zealand Masters Games, Whanganui Events Trust Chief Executive Kathy Cunningham spoke with The Four Five Hundred about this year’s revamped Games.  

There have been a few changes this year. What’s new and why? 

The biggest change is actually moving from a tent in Springvale into a stunning heritage-listed facility in the War Memorial Centre which is right in the CBD. What I’m excited about is that participants and even people that live in and around Whanganui can come in here and enjoy this experience. We’re going to have all the food trucks here for the whole ten days, these are the guys from Street Feast. We also have a restricted bar in the forecourt.

The other big main change is the opening ceremony is at Cooks Gardens.

The decision to come to the War Memorial Centre was made before I arrived. I’m just brave enough to pull it off I think. Or crazy?

There a several reasons. One is after each Games we actual survey all the participants and those who responded overwhelmingly said ‘we need a new venue’. It has to be refreshed and it has to change or why would you bother coming back?

The other reason is Whanganui District Council owns 49 per cent of NZMG. It’s in everyone’s best interest to get as many people into the CBD and spend their hard-earned dollars here. Victoria Avenue to Taupo Quay has some beautiful shops, amazing cafes, galleries etcetera so we’re hoping because we’re in the city that people will wander and enjoy Whanganui in a different way.

How can local, non-competitors get involved?

Well for 2019 they can volunteer. But immediately, people can still buy a supporter’s pass. It’s only $35 for ten nights (nzmg.com) to enjoy and experience some of the best entertainment Whanganui’s seen in a while. I’m really excited about it. But it’s not just the music. We also have the Farmers fashion show, we have the Big Bike Film Festival and we have a couple of quiz nights. It’s a nice mix of, mostly music, but also some other things to keep everybody entertained.

And for those that can’t do that?

Come here to the War Memorial forecourt. I think that’s a really important message too. People still need be reminded the forecourt is open to the public. There’s some great food. We’re only doing low acoustic music at lunch time and happy hour.

How has having the World Masters Games in New Zealand in April affected this event? Has it helped or hindered?

That’s a really good question. Vicki Kestila who runs the Dunedin Masters Games, she and I were over in Australia at the Pan Pacific Games promoting New Zealand Masters Games and would say ‘hey, come to New Zealand’ and they’d say ‘we are in April’. And we’re like ‘no no no, we’re February in Whanganui’.

So, there’s an education process. I believe the New Zealand Masters movement is very confusing and people don’t know what it is. I’ve even had a 70-year-old recently saying ‘I can’t compete at Masters, I’m not good enough’. I was like, ‘no, no, no you are’. Because you can do bowls, you can do petanque, you can do whatever sport you love. The only qualifier for NMZG is age. There are some elite but they’re doing the duathlon and cycling and probably some athletics. A lot of the team sports, part of them are social. And then of course some of them are very competitive.

We’re doing our best to be consistent with that message and still people say ‘oh no, I’m not good enough’.

What are the numbers for this year?

It’ll be more than 4000. We think it’s going to be 4300-ish and last time it was 4500. We’re not that badly in decline and compared to the other years it’s not as big a percentage as what has happened in the past.

Traditionally both in Whanganui and in Dunedin the numbers have been declining. I had a very aspirational goal that did not occur this time. I looked at every single sport in 2013 and 2015 and increased it just a little bit and that’s 6970. And I still want that. I promised everyone that when I reach that I will get it tattooed somewhere. This is my first Masters Games so I’m learning a lot along the way too.

What’re you personally most looking forward too?

Opening ceremony and then the first night here (War Memorial Centre). Because the first night here I think people will say ‘oh my god, did you see that band? We’ve gotta go back and see X, Y, Z. Word of mouth is going to be key.

For more information visit http://www.nzmg.com/