Covid halves number of waka ama competitors at 2022 World Sprints

By Peata Melbourne

Covid-19 has thrown a spanner in the works for NZ Waka Ama teams competing at the IVF World Sprint Club Championships in the UK that kick off next week.

Many of the top teams have pulled out because they were unable to put in the training needed to prepare for the competition and that has put New Zealand's medal hopes in jeopardy.

Waka Ama Aotearoa board member Turanga Barclay-Kerr says despite the challenges he still believes the country has sent their best to compete at the World Sprints in London. The competition was due to go ahead in Hawai’i last year when the International Va’a (Waka) Federation Board postponed the event due to worldwide Covid restrictions.

“The teams who are competing have been able to put in the yards for training, and been able to focus solely on the World Sprints. There may only be a few going but I still think they’re the best we have to offer, regardless.”

Stay home or go?

Tahiti, which dominates the top spots in international competitions, pulled out entirely of the sprint championships this year, an idea Waka Ama NZ also put on the table.

“Many of the New Zealand paddlers felt we should follow Tahiti’s suit given the unpredictable situations occurring around the world, but aside from the clubs we also had to consider the likes of the Elite teams, and now that our borders have re-opened to the world, those teams are forging ahead and probably at the airport as we speak in preparation.”

The ripple effects from crises around the world including the covid pandemic also had a significant impact on costs for paddlers travelling from New Zealand, including Barclay-Kerrs own team who had to take into serious consideration whether f the paddlers could endure the high costs as well as manage potential risks beyond their control.

Aotearoa is currently second on the medal table behind Tahiti, and while there is only half the number of this country's paddlers competing compared to the last World Championships, the chances of staying at the top remain high, according to Barclay-Kerr.

“Aotearoa always has good prospects to do well in this sport and in this competition in particular and, while I don’t want to make any predictions, I’m certain they’ll take out the top spots.”