Sport in New Zealand

Sport in New Zealand


Sport in New Zealand largely reflects its British colonial heritage. Some of the most popular sports in New Zealand, namely rugby, cricket and netball, are primarily played in Commonwealth of Nations countries. Sport is very popular in New Zealand and despite New Zealand being a very small nation, it has enjoyed great success in many sports notably Rugby Union (The national sport) and also Rugby League, Cricket, Americas Cup Sailing, Netball, motorsport and many other sports.

New Zealand's most popular sport is rugby union, the national sport. Other popular sports include cricket, which is considered the national summer sport, rugby league, basketball, soccer and netball (the top ranking female sport by participation); golf, tennis, rowing and a variety of water sports, particularly sailing and Surf Sports. Snow sports such as skiing and snowboarding are also popular.

Participation rates

Data on participation rates in sport in New Zealand is published by SPARC (Sport and Recreation New Zealand). SPARC's data can be found at:

This data relates to the period 1997 to 2001. Some care needs to be taken when interpreting it. For example, "Top Sports and Physical Activities" above gives Rugby Union as the fifth most popular sport for New Zealand adult men with 137,100 participants, and soccer as twelfth most popular with 83,800. Neither Rugby Union nor Soccer appear in the top fifteen sports for adult women. On the other hand "Participation in Sport" states that 158,100 New Zealand adults participated in Rugby Union in the previous twelve months and 143,300 New Zealand adults participated in soccer; a difference of 60,000.

The top five sports played in clubs by boys aged 5 to 17 are:

  • 17% Soccer
  • 16% Rugby union
  • 14% Swimming
  •   8% Cricket
  •   8% Hockey

The top five sports played in clubs by girls aged 5 to 17 are:

  • 17% Swimming
  • 13% Netball
  • 10% Horse riding
  •   8% Tennis
  •   6% Soccer

The top five sports played by men are:

* Less physical form of rugby

The top five sports played by women are:

  • 11% Netball
  • 10% Tennis
  •   9% Golf
  •   7% Touch football
  •   7% Skiing


Major sports


Cricket is the national summer sport in New Zealand, which is one of the ten countries that take part in Test match cricket. The provincial competition is not nearly as widely followed as the case with rugby, but international matches are watched with interest by a large proportion of the population. This parallels the global situation in cricket, whereby the international game is more widely followed than the domestic game in all major cricketing countries. Historically, the national cricket team has not been as successful as the national rugby team. New Zealand played its first test in 1930 but had to wait until 1956 to win its first test. The national team began to have more success in the 1970s and 1980s. New Zealand's most famous cricketer, the fast bowler Richard Hadlee who was the first bowler to take 400 wickets in test cricket, played in this era. Although traditionally New Zealand have had one of the strongest sides, winning the 2000 edition of the ICC Champions Trophy and reaching the 2009 final, they have never progressed past the semi-finals of the Cricket World Cup where they ended up six times (the most equal with Australia), the semi-finals of the Commonwealth Games and the semi-finals of the 2007 ICC World Twenty20. However New Zealand's Women's Team, the White Ferns have reached the Final of their World Cup four times, winning the 2000 edition of the tournament.

Horseracing and equestrian

The various cup days in the major cities attract large crowds, the biggest race being the group 1 Auckland Cup . New Zealand has been the breeding ground for some world famous horses such as Phar Lap and many Melbourne Cup winners. Thouroughbred racing is the most prevalent type of horse racing in New Zealand although there is still a strong following among the standardbred (harness racing) community or "trotters" and "pacers" as they are sometimes known.

Equestrian sportsmen, sportswomen and horses make their mark in the world, with Mark Todd being chosen international "Horseman of the Century", and many juniors at pony club level. Mark Todd won a Gold Medal at the 1984 Olympic Games, and again at the 1988 Games. A Bronze Medal was also won in the Teams Event at the 1988 Games. Further medals were won at the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Games.


Netball is the most popular women's sport both in terms of participation and public interest in New Zealand.[1] As in many netball-playing countries, netball is considered primarily a women's sport, with men's netball largely ancillary to women's competition. The sport maintains a high profile in New Zealand, due in large part to its national team, the Silver Ferns, which, with Australia, has remained at the forefront of world netball for several decades. In 2008, netball in New Zealand became a semi-professional sport with the introduction of the trans-Tasman ANZ Championship. The sport is administered by Netball New Zealand, which registered 125,500 players in 2006.[2]

Rugby league

Unlike Australia, where rugby league is the dominant rugby code, rugby union is generally the more popular code in New Zealand.[3] The New Zealand domestic league is semi-professional and does not enjoy a high profile. However, the Australian National Rugby League (NRL), in which New Zealand Warriors play, is becoming more popular. The New Zealand national side has competed in the Rugby League World Cup since 1954. They are the current World Champions and they won the World Cup for the first time on 22 November 2008 at Lang Park, Brisbane.[4] They are also the reigning Four Nations champions from the 2010 series.[5]

Rugby union

Rugby union is popular across all sections of New Zealand society and many New Zealanders associate it with their national identity. It has the largest spectator following of all sports in New Zealand. New Zealand's national rugby team, the All Blacks, has the best winning record of any national team in the world, and is currently ranked first in the world.[6] The All Blacks won the first rugby world cup in 1987, and again on home soil in 2011. The All Blacks traditionally perform a haka, a Māori challenge, at the start of international matches. This practice has been mimicked by several other national teams, notably the national rugby league team and the basketball teams.

Outside Test matches, there are three widely followed competitions:

  • Super Rugby (previously Super 6, Super 10, Super 12 and Super 14), the elite club competition in the southern hemisphere, involving teams from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.
  • ITM Cup (previously Air New Zealand Cup), created in 2006 as a successor to the National Provincial Championship (NPC), involves professional provincial New Zealand teams and is played mainly during the winter months.
  • Heartland Championship, an amateur competition of lower-level New Zealand provincial teams, also created in 2006 as a successor to the NPC.


Soccer (also known as "football" or "Association football") is less popular in New Zealand than in most other countries. The New Zealand national soccer team, nicknamed the "All Whites", has qualified for the FIFA World Cup twice. At their first appearance in 1982, the All Whites were knocked out in the first round with three losses. Their next appearance in 2010 saw another first-round exit, but with considerably more success on the field; the All Whites earned three draws, including a 1–1 result against defending champion Italy, ending up as the only one team that was not beaten in this edition. The country's only professional soccer team, Wellington Phoenix FC, plays in the A-League which is otherwise an all-Australian competition. The sport is administered by New Zealand Football, which changed its name from "New Zealand Soccer" in 2007 to move in line with common usage around the world. The two major domestic competitions are the New Zealand Football Championship which is played between eight regional teams, and the Chatham Cup which is knock-out competition played between clubs. Neither the Phoenix nor the NZFC franchises play in the Chatham Cup. Soccer is especially popular amongst boys and girls, and is the second most popular participation sport for both boys and girls (aged between 5 and 17 years old) in New Zealand.[7]

New Zealand hosted the 1999 FIFA U-17 World Cup and the inaugural FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in 2008.


Tennis was introduced to New Zealand in the 1870’s, soon after the modern form of the game was invented in England.

The first New Zealand Tennis Championships were played at Farndon in Hawkes Bay in 1886.

Maori participation in tennis began soon after, with many Maori playing at a high standard by the 1890’s. Sir Maui Pomare, the first Maori who qualified as a doctor, won the USA Inter-Varsity Tennis Championships in 1899 while he was studying there. This began a great legacy of Maori participation in tennis, with many players of high caliber emerging over the years, most recently professional players like Kelly Evernden, Rewa Hudson and Leanne Baker. But perhaps the doyenne of Maori tennis is Rua Morrison, who played with great honour in international competitions, and at Wimbledon, in the early days of the professional era.

New Zealand and Australia (as Australasia) were founding members of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) in 1913.

New Zealander Anthony ("Tony") Frederick Wilding was the World No. 1 player in 1913. He was Wimbledon Champion in 1910, 1911, 1912 and 1913. He was a pivotal figure in helping Australasia win the Davis Cup in 1907, and hold it until 1911. He died in the First World War in 1915.

New Zealand has competed in the Fed Cup since 1965, when they played Argentina (won 2-1) and Australia (lost 0-3). At a Fed Cup regional tournament held in Christchurch in 2007, New Zealand played Jordan (won 3-0), India (lost 1-2) Chinese Taipei (lost 1-2), Kazakhstan (won 3-0) and Hong Kong (won 2-1). New Zealand's representatives at the Olympic Games have been: 1912, Stockholm – Anthony Wilding (Australasia); 1988, Seoul – Belinda Cordwell, Kelly Evernden, Bruce Devlin and Kelly Evernden (men’s doubles); 1996, Atlanta – Brett Steven; 2008, Beijing – Marina Erakovic

Other sports

American football

American football, more commonly known as "gridiron" in New Zealand, is a small sport in New Zealand, with programs established in Auckland, Waikato, Hawkes Bay and Wellington. The governing body in New Zealand is the New Zealand American Football Association.

New Zealand's national side are nicknamed the Iron Blacks.

Australian rules football

Australian rules football is a small sport in New Zealand, with programs established under the reorganised governing body of AFL New Zealand. Australian rules football was previously much more popular in New Zealand, with a team competing at the 1908 Melbourne Carnival, defeating both New South Wales and Queensland. Participation dropped after World War I. The game was re-established in New Zealand in the 1990s.

Leagues currently exist in Auckland, Canterbury, Waikato and Wellington. The national team won the Australian Football International Cup in 2005.

New Zealanders who have played in the Australian Football League, the premier Australian rules football competition, include Joe Sellwood, Wayne Schwass, Thomas O'Halloran, Danny Dickfos, Trent Croad and Karmichael Hunt.


New Zealand have one professional basketball team, the New Zealand Breakers, who compete in the Australian National Basketball League (ANBL).

In 2001 they defeated Australia in a three-game series to qualify for the 2002 FIBA World Championships in Indianapolis. At the tournament they finished fourth, after beating Puerto Rico in the quarter-finals before losses to Yugoslavia and Germany. Tall Blacks captain Pero Cameron was the only non-NBA player named to the all-tournament team in Indianapolis.

The Tall Blacks qualified for the 2004 Athens Olympics but again finished with a 1-5 record and lost to Australia in the playoff for ninth place. Their most noted moment was on the 7th day of the games, when they beat Serbia and Montenegro, 90:87.

The most well-known former New Zealand player in the National Basketball Association is Portland Trail Blazers forward Sean Marks, who is in his fifth NBA season, with Kirk Penney being the only other player from New Zealand to play in the NBA.


Amateur boxing was earlier a popular sport in New Zealand but during the 1950s there was a move to stop schools promoting boxing championships and the sport is now only of minority interest. Despite this there has been success at Commonwealth and Olympic Games level.

Professional boxing in New Zealand has produced Bob Fitzsimmons and Torpedo Billy Murphy, both World Champions. Herbert Slade, David Tua, and Tom Heeney were all contenders for a Heavy-weight Championship.


New Zealanders first won Olympic Games medals in 1984 when they won four events. The 1988 and 2004 Games also saw medal success.


New Zealand has produced a number of notable cyclists, across a variety of disciplines including track cycling, road cycling, mountain biking, Downhill and BMX. New Zealand won two cycling medals at the 2008 Olympics - Hayden Roulston took silver in the Men's 4000m Individual Pursuit, while the men's team pursuit team took bronze. New Zealand is famous in Downhill Racing too; riders as Sam Blenkinsop, Brook McDonald, Nathan Rankin and Wyn Masters are some of the fastest downhill racers in the world. The sport is governed in New Zealand by BikeNZ.

Extreme sports

Extreme sports are increasingly popular in New Zealand, both with residents and tourists. Bungee jumping and zorbing were both invented in New Zealand.


New Zealand hosted the 1995 World Gliding Championships at Omarama in North Otago near the centre of the South Island. The Southern Alps are known for the excellent wave soaring conditions. In 2002 and 2003 Steve Fossett tried to beat the world gliding altitude record there (see Gliding New Zealand and external links below).


New Zealand's Michael Campbell won the 2005 U.S. Open Golf Championship.

The New Zealand amateur team of Campbell, Phil Tataurangi, Steven Scahill and Grant Moorehead won the Eisenhower Trophy (World Amateur team event) in 1992 in Vancouver.

Sir Bob Charles has won the British Open and a number of other titles.


In New Zealand "hockey" refers to field hockey (as opposed to ice hockey) and is popular with both genders. New Zealand's men's and women's teams are both known as the "Black Sticks". The best result attained thus far by the men was a gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics. The best placing by the women thus far has been a 4th placing at the 1986 Women's Hockey World Cup.

The men's' team is ranked by the FIH at 7th in the world,[8] and the women's team at 11th,[9] as of 8 September 2008.


Despite New Zealand being a small country, it is very successful at motorsport. There are many levels of competitive motors sport series in New Zealand, which are most simply broken down into watersports (hydro-planing, jetski racing and thundercat racing), automobile racing (Club and national level circuit racing and rallying, with some international events, as well as speedway) and finally motorcycle racing (street, circuit and dirt/motocross).

To date, New Zealand has seen one Formula One World Champion, Denny Hulme, in 1967. Four other New Zealanders have raced at Grand Prix level: Bruce McLaren (four wins), Chris Amon, Howden Ganley and Mike Thackwell. Bruce McLaren founded the McLaren racing team, which was named after him.

Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren also won the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans sports-car race. Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme won four Can-Am sports-car racing championships, 1967-1970. Scott Dixon is a 2003 and 2008 IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner.

New Zealand has many drivers currently competing on a high level on the world stage: Greg Murphy and Steven Richards are among several New Zealand drivers who contest the Australian V8 Supercar Championship, which holds a round in New Zealand each year. Until 2007, this was held at the Pukekohe circuit, with the race moving to Hamilton, New Zealand, where it is contested on a street circuit. Murphy has won the pinnacle race of the V8 supercar season, the Bathurst 1000, twice and until recently held the lap record for the Mount Panorama course. Brendon Hartley is racing in the British Formula Three Championship while testing for the Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso Formula 1 teams.

A1 Team New Zealand has been a front-runner since the series inception. Jonny Reid has won seven races for the team helping it twice claim second place in the Championship, 2006-07 & 2007-08. On 20 January 2008, Taupo Motorsport Park hosted the fifth race in the 2007-08 A1 Grand Prix season.

Rallying is a popular sport at all levels in New Zealand, and hosts rounds of the World Rally Championship and Asia-Pacific Rally Championship each year. A highly competitive national championship is run each year, and some drivers also take part in the Australian Rally Championship, most notably the late Possum Bourne, who was a seven-times Australian Rally Champion.

Ivan Mauger won a record 6 motorcycle speedway World Championships, 1968,1969,1970,1972,1977,1979 - R/Up 1971,1973,1974. Barry Briggs is a New Zealand motorcyclist who won four individual world speedway titles from 1957 to 1966 and took part in a record 87 world championship races. He was an individual world champion from 1957 to 1958, in 1964, and in 1966. He was a team world champion in 1968 and 1971.

Since then Graeme Crosby and Aaron Slight have both risen to the top of World Championship motorcycle racing, in 500cc and Superbikes respectively but championships have been elusive.

Stefan Merriman is a four-time winner of the World Enduro Championship for enduro motorcycling.


Orienteering is a popular sport in New Zealand that combines cross-country running with land navigation skills across a range of settings. Variations of the sport popular in New Zealand include bicycle orienteering, ski orienteering, and rogaines. Orienteering is a popular sport for youth and juniors, and New Zealand regularly sends competitors to both the World Orienteering Championships and the Junior World Orienteering Championships. Orienteering in New Zealand is organized by the New Zealand Orienteering Federation.


Rowing has been a consistent medal winner at the Olympic Games with the first coming in 1920. Medals were also gained at the following Games: 1968, 1972, 1976, 1984, 1988, 2000, 2004, 2008.

At the Rowing World Championships of 2006 in Gifu, Japan, New Zealand won 4 gold medals in 4 consecutive races - now known[by whom?] as the "Magic 45 Minutes".

In addition a number of Rowing World Cup events have been won by New Zealanders. Rowing New Zealand is the governing body.

Lake Karapiro will be hosting the 2010 World Rowing Championships.


New Zealand sailors have won a large number of international events, including Olympic Games medals in 1956, 1964, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000 & 2008

America's Cup

Auckland hosted consecutive America's Cup regattas in 2000 and 2003. In 2000, Team New Zealand successfully defended the trophy they won in 1995 in San Diego, but in 2003 they lost to a team headed by Ernesto Bertarelli of Switzerland whose Alinghi was skippered by Russell Coutts, the expatriate Kiwi who helmed the victorious Black Magic in 1995 and New Zealand in 2000 as well as many other Kiwis. Coutts and Brad Butterworth, along with several other Team New Zealand members, defected to Bertarelli's Alinghi team, taking with them a wealth of experience that allowed the new team to win the America's Cup on the first challenge. Coutts was later dismissed from the Alinghi team; he fought a court battle with Bertarelli to allow him to sail in the 2007 America's Cup contest in Spain, but reached a settlement that kept him out of that contest.


New Zealand has some of the best skiing and snowboarding locations in the world, with workers at these venues creating world class facilities for competitions. Whakapapa and Turoa are the only commercial resorts on the North Island, Queenstown, Wanaka and Christchurch are the top locations in the South Island to access the mountains. In addition to the commercial ski resorts, New Zealand has many non-profit club fields across both the North and South Islands, particularly in the region of the Southern Alps close to Christchurch such as Craigieburn Valley, Broken River and Temple Basin. In the North Island there are club field skiing options on Mount Taranaki at the Manganui area and also on the Eastern aspect of Mount Ruapehu at Tukino. The south of New Zealand offers arguably the longest ski and snowboard season in Australasia. New Zealand snowboarders have also places well on the international scene with brother and sister duo Mitchell and Kendall Brown with Mitchell placing 25th at the 2006 winter Olympics. Also New Zealand snowboarder Jacob Koia is currently sitting in 18th position on the TTR world rankings.[10]


New Zealand's men's softball team, nicknamed the Black Sox, have been highly successful on the international stage despite the sport being a minority in NZ. The Black Sox shared the inaugural World Championships in 1976 with the USA and Canada, and won outright in 1984, 1996, 2000 and 2004. They were the runners up at the 2009 World Champs to Australia.


Squash has been played competitively in New Zealand since 1932. In 2010 there were 220 clubs affiliated with the national organisation, Squash New Zealand. [11] Competitions are played at club, regional and national level.

Dame Susan Devoy won the World Open Championship a record four times, in 1985, 1987, 1990 and 1992. She also won seven consecutive British Open titles from 1984 to 1990, and an eighth in 1992.

At the 2010 Commonwealth Games Joelle King and Jaclyn Hawkes won gold in the women's doubles. Joelle King and Martin Knight won silver in the mixed doubles. New Zealand hosted the Women's World Team Championships in 2010. They were held at International Pacific College in Palmerston North.

Surfing and surfsport

Surfing in New Zealand has a history dating back as far as 1963 when the first national championships were held at Mount Maunganui and won by Peter Way. Surfing has since become more popular with many New Zealanders competing on the international scene. In 1976, New Zealand hosted the Amco/Radio Hauraki Pro at North Piha which became the first event of the very first year of the World Professional Surfing Tour. The event was won by Michael Peterson. In 1987 Iain Buchanan would go on to compete on the world tour finishing 34th overall, the highest placing ever for a New Zealand surfer. New Zealand's top surfer Maz Quinn at a young age won the Billabong Pro-Junior Series in Australia in 1996, then competed in the World Pro Junior final in France coming second overall to Taj Burrow. Maz Quinn placed 7th on the ASP World Qualifying Series (WQS) in 2001 to qualify for the World Championship Tour (WCT) – the first Kiwi to do so. Woman's surfing has also come far in recent years with New Zealand surfer Paige Hareb currently sitting in 8th position on the ASP World Tour Of Surfing.[12]

Surf lifesaving is also popular in New Zealand, with national championships being held yearly.


Hamish Carter of New Zealand won gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics and bronze at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, and was rated world number one for several years. Other successful triathletes from New Zealand include Bevan Docherty, who won the ITU world championship, and a silver in Athens (both in 2004). He has also gained a bronze medal in Beijing 2008, and a silver medal in the Commonwealth Games (Melbourne in 2006).

On the women's side, Samantha Warriner is ranked number 1 in the world.[13] She won silver at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006, and Andrea Hewitt took bronze at the same event.

International competitions

Olympic Games

The country achieves well on a medals-to-population ratio at the Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games; see New Zealand Olympic Committee, New Zealand Olympic medalists and New Zealand at the 2008 Summer Olympics. New Zealand are ranked 36th on the all-time Olympic Games medal table.

New Zealand have won one medal at the Winter Olympics, a silver medal won by Annelise Coberger for alpine skiing at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville.

New Zealand's most celebrated Olympian is probably middle distance runner Peter Snell, who won three gold medals and broke several world records during the 1960s.

Commonwealth Games

New Zealand national teams

National team colours

New Zealand's national sporting colours are black and white (or silver). The silver fern is a national emblem worn by New Zealanders representing their country in sport.

National team names

The national men's rugby team is known as the "All Blacks" rather than the New Zealand rugby team; the national women's netball team is known as the "Silver Ferns". Historically, rugby and netball dominated team sport in New Zealand, and the national teams of other sports have acquired names which have been formed with reference to these two (see list below). The women's rugby team is known as the "Black Ferns", rather than the "All Silvers". Some of these names seem to have arisen as genuine nicknames (e.g. "Tall Blacks", "Wheel Blacks"), and some are neologisms developed as marketing devices (e.g. Black Sticks (hockey), Black Caps (cricket)). New Zealand Badminton temporarily named their teams "Black Cocks".[14] The men's national soccer team is called the "All Whites" as they play in an all-white strip. At the time the national soccer team was formed, an all-black strip would not have been allowed.

Two notable exceptions to the "All Ferns" naming scheme are the Kiwis (men's Rugby League) and SWANZ (the name formerly used for women's soccer).

Sport Men's Women's
Badminton Temporarily Black Cocks, now no official nickname.[15] n/a
Australian rules football Falcons n/a
Basketball Tall Blacks Tall Ferns
Cricket Black Caps White Ferns
Field hockey Black Sticks Men Black Sticks Women
League Kiwis Kiwi Ferns
Netball n/a Silver Ferns
Rugby union All Blacks Black Ferns
Wheelchair Rugby Wheel Blacks
Soccer All Whites formerly SWANZ, now Football Ferns
Softball Black Sox White Sox
Gridiron IronBlacks n/a
Ice Hockey Ice Blacks Ice Fernz


  1. ^ Phillips, Jock (23 September 2007). "Sports and leisure". Te Ara – the encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 18 November 2007. 
  2. ^ "2006 Netball New Zealand Annual Report" (PDF). Retrieved 22 December 2007. 
  3. ^ Hadfield, Dave (14 July 1992). "League breaks union's power". The Independent (UK: Independent News and Media Limited). Retrieved 7 January 2010. 
  4. ^ Cleaver, Dylan (23 November 2008). "League: Kiwis conjure up World Cup miracle". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  5. ^ "Australia v New Zealand in Four Nations rugby league final at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane". Courier Mail. 14 November 2011. Retrieved 15 February 2011. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Top sports and physical activities". SPARC. 16 October 2007. Archived from the original on 27 March 2008. Retrieved 16 May 2008. 
  8. ^ International Hockey Federation
  9. ^ International Hockey Federation
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ History - Surfing New Zealand. Retrieved 21 July 2011.
  13. ^ "Sam Warriner basks in her success in Mexico". Triathlon New Zealand. 27 October 2008. Retrieved 27 April 2009. 
  14. ^ Watterson, Martyn (14 September 2005). "Badminton: Black Cocks name reconsidered". The New Zealand Herald. NZPA. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  15. ^ "Badminton: Black Cocks name reconsidered". New Zealand Herald. 14 September 2005. Retrieved 23 January 2006. 

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