Māori touch celebrates 25 years of being ‘unapologetically Māori’

25 years of Māori touch has been celebrated at the nationals in Rotorua this weekend. Photo supplied / Māori Touch NZ

Twenty-five years of Māori touch has been celebrated in Rotorua this weekend, as the final day of the Māori touch nationals draws to a close at Rotorua International Stadium on Sunday.

A pō whakangahau was held on Saturday evening to mark the special “quarter-century” milestone of Māori Touch NZ’s launch in 1998.

“It was an awesome pō whakangahau,” says Māori Touch NZ trustee Pat Spellman (Ngāti Maru ki Taranaki).

“We do it every year, it’s our one thing that brings our people together. As much as our sport brings everybody together on the field, we bring everybody together off the field and just indulge in what it means to be Māori and do kapa haka and waiata, karakia, manaaki. It was good to have representation from the majority of our rōpū that are participating this weekend.”

25 years of independence

Spellman says the 25-year milestone is a landmark achievement.

“The real special thing about the 25 years is that it’s 25 years of independence of Māori touch, as opposed to having support from an NSO [National Sports Organisation] or from Sport NZ. This has been done off the back of volunteers, of whānau, of iwi, hapū, our marae, our people.

“So when you say 25 years, in comparison to some other codes that might be a small thing, but for us it’s been 25 years of being unapologetically Māori, doing things our way and ensuring we create opportunities for our people without having to concede independence from mainstream organisations that could quite easily come and turn this into just another tick box exercise.

“Māori touch is an independent vehicle for our people and it’ll remain that way for the next 25 years too.”

‘Massive’ turnout

More than 60 teams from up and down the motu have contested this weekend’s nationals, from under 17s through to pakeke masters and open grades, says Spellman.

“The weather’s been 50/50. We had a beautiful day yesterday and it’s been pretty ugly today. But, nonetheless, we’ve had thousands through Rotorua International Stadium celebrating our 25 years of Māori touch, and it’s been awesome.”

There has been a “massive” turnout of players, supporters and whānau, he says.

“Our biggest in a decade. We’ve had a 55% increase in numbers based on last year. Last year, was our first year out of Covid so we just catered for a small number. But just to see the growth of 38 teams in 2022 to over 60 teams in 2023, that’s been awesome.

“And just the integration of things like hauora messaging and activations, a Māori marketplace, taonga tākaro [traditional Māori games], the opportunity for our tamariki to come and be involved in a Māori environment without even having to play touch.

“Lots happening here, and we’ve seen many, many thousands through the gate and on the field here.”

NRL Indigenous All Stars Touch

MVPs will be chosen for each grade and tournament teams selected for the NRL’s showcase Indigenous All Stars event in North Queensland in the new year.

“We’re going through the process of pulling tournament teams together. We’re excited to work as part of the NRL Indigenous All Stars event. Touch is a part of that, before the rugby league.

“Any players that participated this year and did really well will go on to represent Māori touch in the touch game at the All Stars in Townsville in February.

“There’s finally a new pathway for our people to represent their whakapapa but also to represent Māori touch, and we’re excited about that,” says Spellman.