With organisers of the Christchurch Casino Golden Oldies Sports Celebration 2018 predicting 10,000 sports men and women will gather in the Garden City next April, Golden Oldies founder, Tom Johnson, is unsurprised at the way the movement he started nearly 40 years ago has grown in scale and scope.
Next year’s event will be the first time Golden Oldies sports festivals will be held for 10 different sports over four weeks in the one city and six months out organisers say they are on track to host the biggest sports event ever to be held in Christchurch.
Johnson, who started Golden Oldies Rugby in 1979, said that while it was difficult to get the concept started, once it was up and running he instinctively knew it would be successful. “I always felt if rugby could be a success there was no reason why a number of other sports couldn’t join the Golden Oldies fold and be as successful,” he says.
Golden Oldies Rugby began in the era of amateur rugby and Johnson says players in the early days were mainly former provincial representatives who wanted to play like they were All Blacks.
“The weather could not have been worse for the first rugby festival held at Auckland in 1979. It rained persistently through every day of the tournament which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as matches tended to be played with the same intensity of former glory days and the horrendously wet fields slowed down the pace of games and meant fewer injuries.”
According to Johnson it also meant the off-field activities were a big focus, laying the foundations of the fun, frienship and fraternity ethos that has become a hallmark of the Golden Oldies movement.
A former provincial rugby player and New Zealand Rugby Councillor, Johnson says he became increasingly concerned at the drop out from rugby of players in their mid 20s as work or marriage and family commitments took over. “I wanted to find a way that players who were passionate about rugby but had limited time available could stay in the game and enjoy both the health and fitness benefits and also the sociability that rugby provides. At a personal level, the Golden Oldies concept also provided the opportunity to involve my wife and for us to travel to great destinations. By putting all these factors into the mixing bowl, the concept of Golden Oldies emerged.”
Along with rugby, sports on the programme at Christchurch next April are cricket, netball, hockey, softball, golf, football, squash, basketball and lawn bows, the latter four making their debut as Golden Oldies sports.