By Kent Gray/
Before you can lure youngsters to a healthy life in triathlon, first you have to find out where they’re hiding. In the modern world, that place is an increasingly sedentary and often nocturnal online environ but Triathlon New Zealand has found a way to get the next-gen active in their natural environment.

With critical funding from Sport New Zealand and New Zealand Community Trust, Tri NZ has delivered three Virtual Sport hubs in Tauranga, Palmerston North and Christchurch in an effort to boost youth participation.

Utilising smart bikes and the electronic cycling platform Zwift, the hubs allow young Kiwis to come together and race against other teams, across a multitude of virtual courses and mixed-gender formats.

Tri NZ Community Advisor and passionate Esport advocate Anna Russell has led the initiative with assistance from Triathlon Tauranga Events and Development Manager Paul Miller, Tammy Reed in Manawatu and Canterbury triathlon identity John Newsom.

“The opportunity in this space is immense,” said Russell.

“Triathlon has always been an innovative sport and triathletes are always game to try new things and with gaming on the rise, particularly in youth and female demographics [45% of gamers are female], and physical literacy being a key focus in New Zealand, Virtual Sport will play a key role in young people being active alongside traditional sports.

“The International Olympic Committee [IOC] is even looking to Virtual Sport as a way to revitalise the Olympic movement stating that ‘it encourages sports participation and promotes the Olympic values, with a special focus on youth’.

“We’ll look to further showcase the concept at events over the summer like the Sanitarium Weet-Bix Kids TRYathlon’s and to also expose traditional gamers to Virtual Sport by working with the New Zealand Esports Federation.”

Before Covid hit New Zealand in early 2020, Tri NZ had showcased the potential of Esport at the New Zealand Schools Triathlon Championship. Then with lock-downs impacting much of the country throughout 2020 and 2021, Virtual Sport took off with Tri NZ at the forefront of this development in New Zealand courtesy of Russell’s tireless work.

The national governing body now runs the largest Virtual Sport cycling series in New Zealand each year and in 2021 hosted the first ever live eDuathlon event in Australasia.

“One of the exciting initiatives that we’ve developed as a result of the Covid lockdowns is Virtual Sport and we’re proud of the work that Anna has done in this space,” said Tri NZ CEO Pete De Wet.

“As the world changes, it’s important that we too adapt to ensure that we are able to engage a younger audience and help them keep healthy and active. I’m proud that Tri NZ is actively taking a leadership position in this area.”

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