With so much flat land, Christchurch has always had many playing fields. Hagley Park was the birthplace of many sporting codes in Canterbury, and Lancaster Park (later Jade Stadium) was the focus of Canterbury sport from its opening in 1881. Jade Stadium was irreparably damaged in the 2011 earthquake and a new multi-venue stadium was planned for the edge of the rebuilt CBD. In 2012 Rugby League Park in Addington was upgraded to host major rugby union, rugby league and football games until the new stadium opened.
A cricket club formed as early as 1851, foreshadowing Canterbury’s domination of the game. The New Zealand Cricket Council was formed in Christchurch in December 1894 and administration has centred on Christchurch ever since.
The Canterbury Rugby Football Union (1879) was the first in New Zealand. It remains the main Canterbury union, although mid-Canterbury is a separate union competing in the National Provincial Championships.
In the 20th century, rugby was the most popular sport in Canterbury. Lancaster Park was its home, and many provincial and national touring sides battled it out with the local team in its distinctive black and red colours. The Christchurch-based Crusaders, Canterbury team for the tri-nations Super 12 series, held the title five times in the 10 years of the series, and won the inaugural Super 14 series in 2006 and again in 2008.
The Christchurch Lawn Tennis Club was founded in 1881, and there were at least eight clubs by 1886. Anthony Wilding, who won Wimbledon men’s singles titles between 1910 and 1913, gave Canterbury its leading place in the nation’s history of tennis.
Racing and trotting
By the late 1880s Riccarton Racecourse was known as the home of the New Zealand Cup and the Grand National Steeplechase. Cup Day in early November was timed to coincide with the Agricultural and Pastoral show, and it remains a key event.
In 1896 the New Zealand Racing Conference was set up in Christchurch and was based there until 1930. Trotting began at Lancaster Park in 1886, and Christchurch was soon regarded as the country’s trotting capital. The centre for trotting is now at Addington.
The Pioneer Bicycle Club (1870) was probably the first in New Zealand. The Canterbury Rowing Club held regattas on the Avon River from the 19th century. And both the New Zealand boxing and hockey associations were formed in Christchurch in 1902.
In the 1900s swimming and surf clubs formed at Canterbury beaches. Later, other individual sports such as hang gliding and jogging became popular. Nearby ski fields at Mt Hutt and on the Craigieburn Range have made skiing a very popular Canterbury sport.
Peter Snell at Lancaster Park
Lancaster Park (later Jade Stadium) has hosted many major sporting events. One of the most exciting was when Kiwi runner Peter Snell set a world half-mile record on 3 February 1962. At the same time he broke the world record for 800 metres, and set an unofficial world record for the 660 yards.
The most important single event in Christchurch’s sporting history was the 1974 Commonwealth Games. It was considered one of the most successful and friendly games ever held, and television coverage gave the city international publicity.