Chair/Chief Executive Report

On behalf of the Sport Waikato Board and staff, we present you the 2020 Sport Waikato Annual Report. We acknowledge this is a very unusual 2020 with Covid-19 and our own transformational change adding to what has been a challenging year for our people, our stakeholders and the communities of the greater Waikato region.

Certainly, the last 12 months has caused disruption in the play, active recreation and sport space, particularly during lockdown in March and April of this year. What was remarkable coming out of lockdown was the resilience and innovation by sport and recreation groups to innovate and adapt to enable participation whether restricted by alert levels or not. Play, active recreation and sport remains a legitimate option when faced with adversity.

Non-coincidentally, this year has also highlighted a significant year of change for the Regional Sports Trust - Sport Waikato in its 34th year.  Guided by the Board, Sport Waikato will begin a new approach and way of working in 2021 after a significant transformational change process throughout 2020.

Sport Waikato is looking to increase its impact in the Waikato region. This will take the form of a new regional approach to influencing the play, active recreation and sport system through its new structure and approach. Influencing the decision makers, guiding policy, facilitating system change - a Sport Waikato not necessarily doing the delivery but influencing those who do. There are many excellent organisations in the Waikato region whose expertise is delivery.

Our new working model involves taking a collaborative approach. We will partner with key organisations to achieve our strategy, including Territorial Authorities, health, sport, Iwi, recreation and other key partners.

After a consultation period with its staff and discussions with stakeholders in 2020, our change will help clarify our role and focus to work in partnership with other key organisations in the region to achieve the new aspirational goal of 75% of Waikato adults and youth meeting the Active NZ Physical Activity Guidelines by 2030 as part of the region-wide Sport Waikato led Moving Waikato play, active recreation and sport strategy.

The shift in approach will see a leaner Sport Waikato with the unfortunate consequence of very good people’s roles and long-established programmes being disestablished. We do want to take this time to acknowledge and thank every staff member affected for their excellent contribution – some many years to the Sport Waikato legacy. We also acknowledge and thank our outstanding sub-contractors who aligned to programmes like Project Energize and Under Five Energize. To Te Kohao Health, Te Korowai Hauroa O Hauraki-Thames and to South Waikato Pacific Islands Community Services Trust, we thank you for your professional support with your mahi and camaraderie as valued partners.  

To that end with this change to a new approach, Sport Waikato will see the conclusion of some very well established and well performed programmes that have served Sport Waikato and the targeted audiences so well over a number of years. The District Coordinators, Active & Well (Green Prescription), Project Energize and Under 5 Energize programmes to name but a few have all been the right approach and have all complemented greatly to the impact and results on their varied audiences.  To those staff current and those staff before you, thank you sincerely for playing your significant part to the legacy and evolution of Sport Waikato in the Waikato region.

Respecting the past is always important to us, because without our initial founders John Parker, Brian Perry and Paul Fear’s shared vision and dream in 1985, we would not be Sport Waikato. The same can be said for the many outstanding former and current staff whose professional contributions and mahi have solidified the legacy of this Regional Sports Trust in the Waikato.

But we are also cognisant to relevance and to our environment in 2020 and importantly, our view and responsibility over tomorrow’s horizon. Society is changing the way communities engage in play, active recreation and sport. Sport Waikato must change if we are to create meaningful impact.

Current Landscape

As with all sectors and indeed the entire world, the play, active recreation and sport sector has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and its impact will be felt for some time to come. We have seen organised sport disrupted at international, domestic and grassroots level, and this has put pressure on a number of organisations simply in terms of survival.

We have seen the Government respond with a significant investment into the sector of $$264 million over the next four years with a three pronged approach; recover & rebuild, strengthen and adapt and then ‘different & better’,which is all about future-proofing the play, active recreation and sport systems across Aotearoa through innovation.

It is this latter initiative that Sport Waikato is excited by, and we believe we have an important role to play within our region in guiding and facilitating the right outcomes for our communities and partnering with the relevant organisations, decision makers and policy setters that influence recreation outcomes here in the Waikato.

Through our observations during lockdown, backed up by the research and analysis that we have conducted over the last five years, weknow that a good proportion of our communities want to be active in some shape or form. We saw a significant upswing in activity rates during lockdown with individuals and families out walking, running, cycling and spending time in the parks or in the streets with balls, bats and rollerblades etc. What we also saw as we came out of lockdown, was a quick return to the lower activity rates prior to entering Alert Level 4.

What this tells us though, is that we do not have an issue with educating people about the benefits of physical activity – they generally know and want to do more. The problem is that with the fast pace of societal change over the last four decades, the traditional provision of play, active recreation and sport no longer meets the needs of the 21st century Waikato resident.

This is the main reason that the Waikato’s physical activity rates as measured by the Active NZ Survey data have essentially remained static for the last decade. Just 54% of adults and 57% of all age groups are meeting the World Health Organisation guidelines of 150 minutes per week moderate intensity. Essentially, this means that the health and wellbeing of one in two people within our region is at risk. This is the problem that Sport Waikato is seeking to address over the next ten years.

In 2019 Sport Waikato undertook several reviews of both our strategy and role in the region as well as the impact of Moving Waikato, the regional strategy for play, active recreation and sport launched as a partnered plan in 2016.

At the beginning of 2020, Sport Waikato was poised to commence a process for organisation-wide transformational change in order to reposition the way that we work across the region and to drive real change.

Like everyone else, our plans were delayed with arrival of Covid-19 in New Zealand, and our focus for the first half of the year instead shifted to securing and protecting the organisation and its staff from the impact of the pandemic.

We took the time during lockdown to work closely with our key stakeholders and partners across the region and formed an even greater understanding of the challenges the sector continues to face now. These insights reinforced the need for Sport Waikato to change its approach and in late June we finally commenced our change process with our staff.

The process of change has not been easy, not least because we have seen long-standing and well-respected staff and programmes leave the organisation. However, the Board and Leadership Team are all too aware that our organisation relies on the financial support of a number of community funders, all of which are looking for more long-lasting, sustainable and impactful outcomes - and so while the change has been hard. it has also been completely necessary.

Our new operating structure has now been confirmed and sees us at approximately half the size we were prior to June, and we still have a number of new roles to fill which we plan to have completed by March 2021.

The end game for us is to shift the physical activity rates of the region from its current, static 57% to 75% by 2030. This is an aspirational but totally achievable goal and one which is worthy of pursuit. Sport Waikato’s transformational change in 2020 we hope is the catalyst for enabling this shift over the next ten years.



August 2020 saw us acknowledge, celebrate and sadly bid farewell to two outstanding long serving Sport Waikato Board members in Alan Livingston and Murray Dunn. Alan leaves a huge legacy in the Waikato region - the construction of our current home, Brian Perry Sports House in 2008, the 2010 World Rowing Championships at Lake Karapiro and the completion of the Avantidrome are all examples that required leadership, courage and good governance, and Alan concluded 15 years of outstanding voluntary service on the Sport Waikato Board.

Murray joined the Sport Waikato Board in 1999 – 21 years of bringing a strong financial skill set and we were extremely fortunate over the years to reap the benefits of Murray’s professionalism and expertise in the field of finance. In the Boardroom, Murray always presented as a very passionate trustee for the vision and was never afraid to speak for the unspoken or the underdog.

We have now welcomed four new trustees to the Sport Waikato Board, each bringing with them valued skillsets and experience.

General Manager Jen Palmer of the Brian Perry Charitable Trust has overseen the development of the Te Awa River Ride, the Podium Sports Lodge, and played a key role in the development of the Home of Cycling’s Avantidrome.

As Deputy Principal at Hamilton Girls’ High School, Sharleen Nathan brings a strong secondary school educational lens and focus on rangatahi 12-18 years - a targeted priority area of Sport Waikato’s new direction. Sharleen has played at international level in both rugby and sevens as well as provincial level touch, basketball and softball.

A Senior Auditor at KPMG, Taylah Hodson-Tomokino comes to us with an accountancy skillset, a strong grasp of the targeted youth space, and the critical link and key role social media plays in activating tamariki and rangatahi. Taylah has represented New Zealand in BMX racing and touch as well as following in her father’s footsteps by representing Samoa internationally in both rugby and sevens.

Current Mayor of Hauraki District Council, Toby Adams was selected by all the Waikato territorial authorities via the Waikato Mayoral Forum. Mayor Toby brings significant local government experience and is a great believer in the role that not only sport but play and active recreation play in society. Hehas been involved in rugby as a player, coach and referee, and he enjoys and recently learnt to swim to do some triathlons.  

The diverse skills and attributes of our board members provides us with strong governance that continues to lead and guide the strategic direction of Sport Waikato through a transitional phase, with the aim to deliver on the Moving Waikato strategy and vision.

Financial Result

The 2020 Financial Year was an unusual one for Sport Waikato for two overarching reasons – Covid-19 and the preparation for the transformational change consultation process which commenced in June of this year.

Unlike most organisations, our income for the year was unaffected by Covid-19 as most of our funding was tied to contracts which were already confirmed for the year. This meant that there was no need for us to avail ourselves of the Government’s wage subsidy scheme, and we were able to continue to pay our staff at 100% of their salaries during the lockdown period. What we did see during lockdown was a significant decrease in our operating costs, particularly in relation to the running of our fleet of 65 vehicles and our regional offices.

In addition, as we prepared in the first six months of the year to engage with our staff in consultation on our new way of working, we imposed a recruitment freeze knowing that our operating structure was likely to change by the time consultation finished. In the July 2019 to February 2020 period we saw some staff leaving us and they were never replaced because of our recruitment freeze and the delay in commencing our consultation process caused by the Covid-19 lockdown period.

The combined effect of these reduced operating costs and remuneration savings resulting from the recruitment freeze means that we are reporting an operating surplus of $749k against a budgeted $140k. Some of the surplus generated from the 2020 financial year will be utilised in the 2021 financial year to support the activation of our transformational change. 


The Sport Waikato Board, Leadership Team and staff would like to acknowledge the ongoing support we receive from our funders from all sectors; public, private and through corporate sponsorship. In this particular year we are grateful for not only the financial support but also for backing us in a year of change as we look to seriously shift the dial on physical activity rates across the region. We recognise that in a year of financial uncertainty caused by the global pandemic, our funders have heightened expectations on the social return on their investment in us and we do not take this for granted. 

Fellow partners and volunteers in the Waikato

To our Regional Sports Organisations, the clubs and most importantly the region’s volunteers, we thank you for your continued efforts in a year of adversity. The Sport Waikato team acknowledges your outstanding commitment, innovation and values the complementary partnership that continues to develop as we face the challenges of keeping our region active together.  We understand there may be some apprehension in the sector with our new way of working. Be assured that our commitment, new structure and focus is aimed to add value and support growth in your own capability and capacity journey with the ultimate end game of more impact and quality of experience for your participants.


We acknowledge our Kaumatua Pokaia Nepia - your wisdom, advice and support is critically important.

Sport Waikato is committed to diversity within our organisation and diversity is a key criterion and consideration in aspects associated with Sport Waikato’s role both internally and externally. While zoning in on a 0-24-year lens under our new way, we will also be targeting Maaori health outcomes more intensively moving forward. Some of the new key roles and teams as part of the transformation will specifically address system inequities for Maaori. 

We also acknowledge the contribution, guidance and stewardship of the Sport Waikato Board of Trustees for their leadership, commitment and support through a challenging year.
And finally, we again acknowledge the challenging year of change that we have faced as we recalibrate this Regional Sports Trust, we pay special acknowledgement and gratitude to the Sport Waikato staff. Your contribution and legacy to Sport Waikato in this period of our evolution has been appropriate and significant, and for that we thank every staff member and of course we include our excellent sub-contractors.  

Looking forward, there are new challenges for our communities and providers of play, active recreation and sporting opportunities in our region, therefore Sport Waikato can’t keep doing the same thing we’ve always done and expect a different result. Our focus in the greater Waikato region must always be on the participant – everything we do needs to work towards a quality and accessible experience for people both young and old to build a lifelong enjoyment of physical activity. That is where the impact and growth opportunity lie. To do that we need to and want to work at the right level to influence sustainable change.

Mahia te mahi hei painga mo te iwi – we strive every day to ‘do the work for the betterment of the people’ – Te Puea Herangi

Mark McCabe                                                                           Matthew Cooper
Sport Waikato Chairman                                                    Sport Waikato Chief Executive