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World Champs in a $40 Million Woolshed

The 40th anniversary World shearing and woolhandling championships start today in Invercargill with organising committee chairman and former champion shearer Tom Wilson balancing the odds firmly in the favour of success over the next four days.

"There's more that has gone right than has gone wrong," he said today in ILT Stadium Southland, the major sports venue which has been transformed into a $40 million woolshed, where about 4500 sheep will be shorn, watched by thousands ranging from people who've never seen shearing to World champions dating back to when the shearing-only first World championships were held in England in 1977.

The championships started with the heats of the Southland All Nations, warm-up events with the dual purpose of providing competition for the 116 World Championships machine shearers, blade shearers and woolhandlers chasing the six major titles and opportunities for other shearers and woolhandlers to take part in some competition while they're in town.

The fifth held in New Zealand with all four previously in Masterton, the home of the Golden Shears, the championships are the culmination of about three years work since the idea of a World Championships in the South Island was floated shortly before the 2014 championships in Gorrie, Ireland.

The hopefuls won the bid with Christchurch as the venue, but it soon became evident that guaranteeing the required supply of sheep at the right time could be a problem, a problem solved after members read a report after Joseph Parker's mini-fight in the stadium in July 2015 extolling the venue's virtues and the active drive to fill it with more events.

"I was down on the doorstep of Venture Southland within a few days, in half an hour we were in touch with the stadium manager, and he said, Let's do it," recalled Mr Wilson, who won two World titles – individually and asa team - in the colours of native Scotland but who has now lived in New Zealand many years.

"Let's do it," he repeated. "That's been the whole attitude ever since."

Mr Wilson was unable to state the expected cost of running the championships, but the event has been made possible with major funding of $380,000 plus that of commercial sponsors.

The major funding comprised a major events grant of $260,000 from Governement's Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), and $40,000 from each of the Invercagill City Council, the Invercargill Licensing Trust and the Community Trust of Southland.

While the hard-earned MBIE grant was pivotal, Mr Wilson said the event could hsave gone ahead without it. "It would have been at a smaller location," he said. "This is good, the sheep are here, it's the middle of the season," he said.

It's taken a huge amount of volunteer participation, including the transporting of a six-stand shearing stand used for the Otago championships in Balclutha's War Memorial Hall on Saturday and it's re-erection starting in the ILT Stadium the next day.

First onto the board a tick after 11am today were six shearers, all from overseas, in the first heat of the All Nations Intermediate Championship, immediately highlighting the diversity of the 32 shearing nations taking part.

On Stand One on the stage built about the size of that of a major rock concert, was Elis Ifans, of Wales, joined along the board by Huques Lachaune, of France, Arsenio Sahiueque, Argentina, Masakuni Osawada, of Japan, George Orlof, of England, and Huw Rees, from Wales, only Sahiueque and Osawada being entries in the World Championships to follow.

They were new conditions to some, Sahiueque forgetting to clock-off with the button beside his stand and Osawada a determined battler taking the opportunity of a shearer keen to learn, his 57 sheep shorn on his first day in New Zealand last week being as many as he'd shorn in Japan all season.

About 600 specators saw the opening blows, most likely to be among the more than 3000 expected to watch the six finals on Saturday night.

The first of the World Championship events are tomorrow afternoon, being the heats in the first of three preliminary rounds of the glamour event, the machine shearing.



 

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