World Council thankful of southern support

A record attendance of 32 countries at next month's World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships points to a strong future for the sport. That's the view of World Shearing Council Chairman Greg Herrick.

"Traditionally in the southern Hemisphere it's a big distance for a lot of countries to travel to New Zealand and Australia, so to have a record number coming is absolutely fantastic. The mass of our member countries and are in Europe. There's a huge number of sheep and shearing competitors in that area so to get them down to Invercargill is a great feat by the organising committee," he said.

The World Council has 13 financial member countries, all of which can file an application to host the World Championships. Traditionally, hosting rights are rotated between the northern and southern hemispheres when possible.

Initially, the 2017 Championships were ear-marked for Australia but, when their bid was unable to proceed, Shearing Sports New Zealand applied for and was awarded the World Championships for a fifth time.

"Northern Ireland applied at the same time and the vote went to New Zealand to keep the rotation in place. It was originally intended to run the event in Christchurch but there was such great support in Southland that the decision was made to move the Championships to Invercargill.

"Obviously, it's a huge farming catchment. There was an immediate and terrific response from the people of Invercargill and from the likes of the Invercargill Licensing Trust, Invercargill City Council and Community Trust of Southland and the facility you have there at ILT Stadium Southland is obviously tremendous and ticked all the boxes so it was not a difficult decision," he said.

On all four previous occasions when the World Championships have been held in New Zealand, they have been hosted by Golden Shears in Masterton. Herrick, who is closely involved in the organisation of the annual Golden Shears, said the break in tradition was a positive.

"We held the World Champs in Masterton in 2012. Golden Shears felt 2017 was too close and I think it's tremendous that it's being held in one of the regions in New Zealand," he said.

The New Zealand shearing industry has faced diminishing sheep numbers with changes in land use seeing the sheep population decline from 70 million at its peak during the 1970s and early 1980s to approximately 28 million today. However, Herrick believes the competitive shearing and woolhandling industry has not declined in any way.

"I think our competitors are as strong as ever, both in New Zealand and worldwide. We are seeing a lot more competition now from overseas countries. There are some real parallels to our rugby environment. A lot of overseas shearers and woolhandlers are coming in to New Zealand and our young shearers head overseas for work and they take all of this expertise and knowledge with them. Once upon a time it was almost guaranteed that New Zealand would swoop everything on offer at a World Championships, but it's nowhere near like that now," Herrick said.

"We're not a big industry so it's great that we do share what we know and I think that makes for healthier competition worldwide. We'll get no better example of that than these next World Championships in Invercargill next month," he said.

The World Council was formed in 1980 with only three foundation members, Euroa in Australia, Golden Shears in Masterton and Bath & West in England. Its role is to administer the rules and regulations that pertain to the World Championships.

Herrick, who has been involved in the shearing industry for almost 50 years, started as a shearer himself before owning his own contracting business in Wairarapa and he was among the top Open shearers in the country throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, making the Golden Shears final in 1983.

He was nominated as a New Zealand delegate to World Council and became Vice-Chairman in 2005 before being elected Chairman in 2012.

"It's a great position to be in and very humbling. I think our Council needs people who know the industry well and the World Council has come a long way. There's a lot of experience on there now."

And he is in for a busy week around World Championships with the World Council Meeting scheduled for Wednesday 8 February.

"We have a large number of remits that have come in from member countries. We'll have some preliminary meetings with countries earlier in the week but the Wednesday is a huge day. It takes all day to get through a World Council meeting and then we de-brief again on the Sunday after World Championships," he said.

"You've got to keep your ear to the ground on what people are thinking and any concerns or improvements that we can make for the next Championships. You like to mix a bit of pleasure with business but generally you've got to keep your wits about you for the whole week," Herrick said.

One key decision will be the awarding of hosting rights for the next World Championships.

"We have one application from France which is really exciting. There's never been a World Championships in France. It would be premature to say whether they are going to be granted it but, providing they tick all the boxes at our World Council meeting and the Council accepts their application, we'll be going to France in 2019-20," he said.

"Every time we go to a new country it's really exciting. You go into different cultures and no one World Championship is the same because that country will do it a little differently to the last. That really adds to the flavour and the excitement of a World Championship."

"In years to come, we hope the World Council continues to grow and that we'll be visiting every country in the world that makes up the global sheep population."

The 2017 World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships will be held in the South Island of New Zealand for the first time in its 40-year history at ILT Stadium Southland in Invercargill from 8 to 11 February. Tickets and event information can be found at www.worldshearingchamps.com.


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