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COVID cancels 2022 Golden Shears championships

Sheep Central, December 10, 2021

NSW shearer Daniel McIntyre in the trans-Tasman test at the Golden Shears in Masterton, New Zealand in 2019. Photo – Shearing Sports NZ.

AUSTRALIA’S top shearers and wool handlers will miss the opportunity to compete against the world’s best for the second consecutive year with the cancellation of the 2022 Golden Shears in New Zealand.

The world’s premier shearing and wool-handling championships has this week been cancelled for the second year in a row due to the uncertainty of the coronavirus crisis.

The Golden Shears has been held annually for 60 years in Masterton’s War Memorial Stadium and has been the venue for numerous fiercely-contested trans-Tasman tests between New Zealand and Australian competitors.

The decision at Monday’s annual general meeting of the Golden Shears International Shearing Championships Society follows the cancellation of the 2021 championships last March at just four days’ notice – the first cancellation since the championships were first held in 1961.

Sports Shear Australia immediate past chairman Tom Kelly said the Golden Shears is “the mecca of shearing competitions.”

Mr Kelly said Australia would have sent a shearing and wool handling team, and judges, to the Golden Shears if the COVID environment had allowed it, but it might not have been viable with the extra costs created by COVID quarantine.

“It is still an uncertain environment.”

Mr Kelly said Australia’s shearers and wool handlers were “busting” to get back into international competitions.

“We got in and out of there by early March in the first big year of COVID (2020).

“We haven’t been able to run a nationals event here since 2019 at Dubbo, but we’ve got an existing Australian team and they remain the national team until they are replaced at a proper event.”

Golden Shears International Shearing Championships Society president and Wairarapa farmer Sam Saunders said the 25-strong committee faced few options.

“It was one meeting I did not want to have to chair,” he said after the meeting at The Woolshed Museum.

With a budget of around $250,000, including long-standing major sponsorship – with a volunteer workforce of up to 250, many of whom sacrifice a week’s leave each year to make “the Shears” tick-over – the decision was made now to protect the future of the event that put Masterton and the Wairarapa region on the map worldwide.

Possibly non-recoverable costs would soon be accruing day-by-day and there had been a five-figure cost of the cancelled event earlier this year, eating into reserves set-aside for the next time Masterton stages the Golden Shears World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships.

Increased responsibilities for control of competitors and spectators brought new problems, Saunders said, adding: “It was unfortunate enough to have the rug pulled from under us back in March. We wouldn’t want to have too many losses. It was best to cancel and start planning for a big event in 2023.”

Mr Saunders said the meeting “discussed at length” how it could go ahead, but concluded it could not.

“One of our many reasons was that we could not possibly present our prestigious event in the manner we aspire to with the current restrictions and the many checks that would have to be put in place,” he said.

“Our major consideration is the welfare of all our volunteers, competitors, spectators, sponsors and service providers.”

“As this event is staged indoors, this increases the demands we need to follow in order to keep everyone safe from the pandemic,” he said. “We consider our decision as being responsible to all people involved with Golden Shears.”

Shearing Sports New Zealand chairman Sir David Fagan said the cancellation of the premier event, for a second time, is “devastating – but it is what it is.”

“Everyone is affected, from those who have had to make the decision, to the hundreds of volunteers who make the Golden Shears and other events throughout the country tick-over for the good of the sport, the wool industry and their communities, to the competitors, who will be very disappointed.

“Most of them will have to reset their goals,” he said.

The 2022 championships were to have celebrated the 50th final of the national shearing circuit, incorporating the McSkimming Memorial Triple Crown which was first held in 1973, expanding to become effectively the ironman event of shearing with sheep of five wool types and qualifying rounds at five venues each summer.

The Golden Shears is the biggest of about 60 championships’ on the Shearing Sports New Zealand calendar, hit heavily over the last three seasons because of the lockdowns and other Covid-19 alerts.

The 2020 championships were held a fortnight before the first lockdown, and more than 20 NZ competitions have since been cancelled at least once, mainly at A and P shows but including the stand-alone 2020 New Zealand Shears in Te Kuiti and New Zealand Merino Shears in Alexandra.

The Golden Shears becomes at least the 15th shearing sports event cancelled in the 2021-2022 season, with  none yet held in the North Island amid multiple A and P show cancellations. Just seven have been held in the South Island, all under Covid-19 Level 2 alert conditions without general public admission.

The Golden Shears was an immediate success when first held in 1961, double-billed as the Australasian shearing championships, attracting 214 competitors across just four shearing grades.

Hundreds were unable to get seats on the final night, many watching through the foyer windows from outside as the action was relayed via a CCTV camera and a small screen in what was possibly New Zealand’s first live television sportscast.

The Golden Shears brand spread quickly as far as the UK, where the first Golden Shears World Championships were held at the Royal Bath and West Show in 1977.

Golden Shears New Zealand entries peaked at close to 600 about the time of the next World championships in Masterton in 1980, and the 70 million peak in the New Zealand sheep population in 1982. With that population now under 27 million the now shearing and wool handling championships attract over 400 entries each year over a range of more than 20 Golden Shears, national and North Island titles.

World championships under the auspices of the Golden Shears World Council have been held 18 times, including four times in Masterton, in 1980, 1988, 1996 and 2012, with the next, postponed by the global pandemic, scheduled to be held at the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2023.

Source: Doug Laing, Shearing Sports New Zealand.

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