12 Jun 2020

Live sport to return in Dunedin with Highlanders v Chiefs match

12:25 pm on 12 June 2020

With the country at Covid-19 alert level 1, anticipation is building for the return of live sport as the Highlanders take on the Chiefs at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium tomorrow night.

Highlanders rugby fans and supporters.

Highlanders rugby fans and supporters. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

A crowd of more than 18,000 is expected in what will be the largest gathering since the country entered lockdown almost three months ago.

The return of live rugby - even to television screens - was always keenly anticipated in the lower south.

But Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark said confirmation a crowd would be allowed was a significant boost for the team.

"Before tickets went on sale we had rang all our members and there were only 25 of the 7500 people that weren't going to be able to make it to the game, so the excitement levels were already up," he said.

That was proven when tickets went on sale on Monday afternoon.

"We did over 2000 tickets in four hours when the tickets went on sale at 4.30[pm] - so that's outstanding," Clark said.

"Normally a big day would be a couple of thousand tickets over the whole day."

Forsyth Barr Stadium

A crowd of more than 18,000 is expected at Forsyth Barr stadium (pictured). Photo: Photosport

Enterprise Dunedin's director, John Christie, said a large crowd had spin-offs for the whole city.

"We know there'll be a good crowd. Many of those will be coming from even outside the city and the region itself. That's always welcomed by retailers, our tourism operators and hospitality sector in particular.

"And our accommodation providers have been doing it pretty tough, they'll be enjoying hopefully getting a few extra bed nights this weekend."

Hospitality New Zealand's Otago president, Mark Scully, said the return of students post-lockdown and with restrictions no longer in place it was going to be a big night.

It was all about showing Dunedin was open for business, he said.

"What they spend over the weekend is obviously the start of it. But what nights like this do is signal to people that the crisis is over, it's time to get back out.

"So hopefully it kick-starts things and for some people, who have been a little bit cautious and looking for a real event to lure them back out, this might be the tonic they need to get out and about."

Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins.

Aaron Hawkins. Photo: Dunedin City Council

Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins said he hoped it marked a change in fortunes not only for the city but for the Highlanders team, who started the Super Rugby season with one win from five matches until the pandemic ended the initial tournament.

"The psychological advantage of playing the first home game with a crowd obviously can carry us on through the season.

"Nehe Milner-Skudder playing in the deep south - a boost to our attacking chances. I don't see why not."

Hawkins predicted this would be "our year".

And for Terry Davies, chief executive of Dunedin Venues - the company behind Forsyth Barr Stadium, the country's rapid return to normalcy, meant Dunedin Venues had gone from famine to feast.

"Two-and-a-half months ago we put a proposal and proposition to our owners - the city - and said 'The reality of where we are is that we may not have any events until early to mid next year'.

"That wasn't just stadium events because also run Dunedin Centre and Town Hall which is our conference and business events. But what we are seeing today our July through to December period is just as busy coming up as it was pre-Covid."

To support crowds returning, the stadium would be taking precautions around safety and hygiene this weekend with QR codes plastered on every seat in the house and plenty of sanitiser stations.

Davies said he recommended getting there early and downloading the Covid-19 Tracer App. But anyone with any worries could reach out to security at the ground, who had been prepped to allay any concerns.

But if people were unwell they should catch the game from the couch at home, he said.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs

We have regular online commentary of local and international sport.