WELLINGTON (Reuters) - A raft of top class sporting events were cancelled in New Zealand on Saturday as a traumatised nation started burying the dead from the worst peacetime mass killing in its history.
A lone gunman killed 49 people and wounded more than 20 at two Christchurch mosques on Friday in a shooting which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern condemned as “a terrorist attack”.
While one National Rugby League match went ahead in Auckland on Saturday, a horse racing meeting, a top class rugby union match, a cricket test, and string of netball games were all scratched from the schedules in the wake of the attack.
“This isn’t about cricket,” New Zealand Cricket chief executive David White said when discussing the cancellations in his sport.
“It’s about something much bigger and much more important than that. It’s about life, it’s about respect. It’s about family and community.
“Cricket and sport takes a back-seat to personal welfare.”
The third cricket test between New Zealand and Bangladesh, whose team were on a bus approaching one of the mosques with the attack underway, was cancelled on Friday.
The test was due to start at Hagley Oval in Christchurch on Saturday but the Bangladesh team left New Zealand less than 24 hours after the shooting and about an hour after the initial scheduled start time.
The Super Rugby clash in Dunedin between the Otago Highlanders and Canterbury Crusaders, who are based in Christchurch, was called off on Saturday out of respect for the victims and their families.
The Canterbury cricket team, one of six first-class sides in New Zealand’s domestic Plunket Shield competition, also chose not to play their final round match in Wellington, which handed the title to Central Districts.
Canterbury were the only side with a mathematical chance of catching Central Districts in the final round of games, but their decision not to travel to Wellington for match starting on Sunday gave the title to last year’s winners.
Chief executive Jeremy Curwin said Canterbury Cricket had consulted with the players, who were given the opportunity to make their decision whether to play the final game as individuals or collectively.
“The team showed a united front in terms of the decision,” Curwin said in a statement.
“It is clear that this tragedy will affect people in different ways, and Canterbury Cricket is here to support our players however we can.
“We fully respect their decision, and I am incredibly proud of how they conducted themselves throughout this process.”
New Zealand internationals Martin Guptill and Lockie Ferguson, who play first class cricket for Auckland, also withdrew from their team’s match against Otago in Dunedin.
“Both Martin and Lockie felt personally uncomfortable making the trip to Dunedin given the events in Christchurch, and also, the feelings and concerns of their partners and families,” Auckland’s high performance manager Simon Insley said.
“We understand that at times like this, families come first.”
While the Dunedin Super Rugby match was called off, the Waikato Chiefs and Wellington Hurricanes did play a 23-23 draw in Hamilton, on the North Island, on Friday night.
All Blacks and Hurricanes scrumhalf TJ Perenara admitted, however, that the minds of the players had also been elsewhere.
“Today was bigger than rugby,” Perenara told reporters.
“Regardless of how that result went, that wouldn’t have been the most important part of my day. I don’t think anyone ... in this country, would say that rugby was the most important thing.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty/Nick Mulvenney