Beginnings of masters competitions
Running was the first sport to create separate club organisations and competitive structures for older participants. The earliest, the Veterans Athletic Club (Veterans AC) in England, was founded in 1931. The American Seniors Golf Association was established in 1935, and the first seniors’ tennis tournament was held in Switzerland in 1947. Masters track races began in the United States in 1966, and American road races began to give age awards in 1971. The first international federation was the German-initiated IGAL (Interessen-Gemeinschaft Älterer Langstreckenläufer), which instituted annual world road running championships in 1968. The Tennis Grand Masters circuit began in 1972.
A group of Canterbury women came together to compete against women from other provinces in the 1974 Veterans Pre-Commonwealth Games meeting at Rawhiti Domain. After that event they asked for a women’s grade in the national masters cross-country championships at Whanganui in 1975. The organisers were unenthusiastic but agreed. When six Canterbury women made the trip up to Whanganui they found that no one else had entered the race. At the prize-giving afterwards the local chairman neglected to mention the women’s race, but had to announce it after remonstrations by the women’s contingent.
Masters competitions in New Zealand
In New Zealand the ‘Trojans’, a team of former national hockey team members, played provincial teams and gave coaching demonstrations in the 1950s and 1960s. The Waipawa Tennis Club's veterans’ tournament, held annually since 1955, was the first New Zealand sporting competition specifically for older players. Established by Don and Mary Allen, the Waipawa tournament encouraged the spread of veterans’ tennis throughout the country.
New Zealand’s first club for older sportspeople was the Canterbury Veteran Runners Association, a runners’ club set up in 1962. Founder Clarrie Gordon had been inspired by England’s Veterans AC, and in particular by 83-year-old Joe Deakin, who still ran competitively with the English club. Deakin, a 1908 Olympic medallist, was appointed patron of the Canterbury association.
The first national championship for masters was held on 8 August 1970, when the Canterbury Veteran Runners Association initiated the first New Zealand Veteran Athletes Cross-Country Championship, run over 12 kilometres, at Paekākāriki. A women’s grade was added to the national cross-country championships in 1975 at Whanganui.
Masters road, marathon and track championships quickly followed, and the first national track and field championships were at Christchurch in 1975. However, before that an International Veterans Pre-Commonwealth Games Meeting was held at Rawhiti Domain, Christchurch, in January 1974. World over-40s records were set by Maeve Kyle of Northern Ireland (400 metres) and Jack Foster (10,000 metres). Foster went on to win the silver medal for the marathon at the Christchurch Commonwealth Games. Former Olympic champions Peter Snell and Englishman Chris Brasher also featured in the veterans’ races.
Golden Oldies’ rules
The rules of sports are upheld in Golden Oldies’ competition, but with adjustments to allow for age. In rugby, games are played in three 20-minute spells, with a 10-minute rest period in between. Teams can field as many replacements as they like, and no pushing is allowed in the scrum. There are restrictions on tackling players over 60 years old, who are identified by the colour of their shorts.
In cricket, bowlers’ run-ups are limited to 10 metres. Six bowlers must be used by each team, and festival matches are limited to 40 overs per side.
In 1979 the first international ‘Golden Oldies’ rugby festival was held in Auckland. Tom Johnson, a former Hawke’s Bay captain and coach, was instrumental in setting it up. Thirteen teams from New Zealand took part, along with two teams made up of players from Canada and the US. The only prerequisite for players was that they had to be over 35. The festival was held biennially and grew rapidly. In 1981 it was held at Long Beach, California, with 46 teams from 11 nations. The 1983 festival in Sydney had 118 teams.
The Golden Oldies concept spread to other sports. In 1983 Golden Oldies hockey and (association) football tournaments began, with cricket and netball following in 1984. The first Golden Oldies International Cricket Festival, held in Auckland in 1994, attracted 34 teams from six countries. The main emphasis in Golden Oldies’ tournaments is on the social side of sport rather than competing to win.