Story: Veterans and masters sport

Older New Zealanders are increasingly participating in sport, with masters competitions and Golden Oldies events catering for veteran sportspeople.

Story by Roger Robinson
Main image: Coach Arthur Lydiard (age 56, at front right) with the Wellington Joggers' Club, 1974

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Competitive sport for older people is often known as masters sport or veterans’ sport.

Older people’s sport in New Zealand

New Zealand has a strong tradition of older people taking part in sport and recreation. Organised sports that traditionally cater for older people include archery, bowls, croquet, golf, sailing and tennis. From the 1960s there was an international mass movement for exercise in later life, influenced by New Zealand running coach Arthur Lydiard.

In the 2000s most sports had masters associations and age-group championships.

Kiwi masters

Older New Zealanders with notable sporting and physical achievements include:

  • publisher A. H. Reed, known for his marathon walks around New Zealand, which continued into his late 80s
  • Burt Munro, who broke the world under-1,000-cc motorcycle speed record three times in his 60s
  • Bill Pratney, who retired from cycle racing in his 40s but returned to competitive cycling between the ages of 71 and 85
  • Bob Charles, a leading golfer who played in the British Open up to the age of 60
  • Bernie Portenski, a middle- and long-distance runner who was setting world age-group records in her 60s.

Masters competitions

New Zealand’s first sporting competition for older players was the Waipawa Tennis Club's veterans’ tournament, which began in 1955. The Canterbury Veteran Runners Association was set up in 1962, and the first national masters running championship was a cross-country event in 1970. Road, marathon and track championships soon followed.

The South Island Masters Games were established in 1988, and the New Zealand Masters Games in 1989.

Golden Oldies

‘Golden Oldies’ events for over-35-year-olds began in 1979, and emphasise the social side of sport, rather than competing to win. Golden Oldies tournaments include rugby, hockey, (association) football, cricket and netball.

International competitions

World events for older participants began in the 1970s. In 1981 the world masters road running championships were held in Palmerston North, and the track and field championships in Christchurch. Auckland hosted the World Masters Games in 2017.

Policy and funding

In the 2000s Sport New Zealand (which changed its name from SPARC in 2012) encouraged older people to play sport. However, most masters sport was funded and administered by its participants.

How to cite this page:

Roger Robinson, 'Veterans and masters sport', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 30 September 2023)

Story by Roger Robinson, published 5 Sep 2013