Where it all began
The idea for the Halberg Foundation first came to Sir Murray Halberg ONZ, MBE after he attended a sports reporters’ function in Canada back in 1962. Invited as a guest speaker, the Olympic champion was inspired by the true purpose behind the event: to help disabled children reach their sporting potential.
Sir Murray returned to New Zealand with the goal of creating a similar charitable event to be organised on these shores. The following year Sir Murray rallied friends and colleagues to help resurrect the then defunct ‘Sportsman of the Year Awards’, as a fundraising dinner for his newly created trust.
More than sixty five years on, the Awards stand as the country’s pre-eminent event to honour sporting excellence, and is the flagship fundraising event for Sir Murray’s charity – the Halberg Foundation.
The Original ‘Sportsman of the Year Awards’
The original ‘Sportsman of the Year Awards’ traces its roots back to 1949, when NZ Sportsman Magazine founders Jack Fairbairn and Maurice O’Connor created the event. The event ran successfully for a decade, with Sir Murray Halberg ONZ, MBE winning the Award himself in 1958.
Legendary cricket batsman Bert Sutcliffe (later named 1940’s Decade Champion) was the first to earn the now highly-coveted Award when it began in 1949. He was followed the next year by athletics wonder Yvette Williams (1950 & ’52 winner and 1950’s Decade Champion), proving that gender had no bearing on who won the Sportsman of the Year title!
From 1963, Halberg’s charity organised and presented the Sportsman of the Year award annually. In 1985 Dame Susan Devoy was crowned ‘Sportsman of the Year’, and by 1987 it was clearly time to alter the Awards format to include different categories and create a gender neutral overall award title. Also in 1987, the Awards were renamed the Halberg Awards, although Sir Murray, famous for his humble nature, was not particularly enthused with this amendment!
The Halberg ‘Man’
Who is the Halberg man? Interestingly, it is not (as most people assume) a statue of Sir Murray Halberg ONZ, MBE. When Jack Fairbairn and Maurice O’Connor first thought of the idea of a Sportsman of the Year Award, they contracted the noted English silversmiths, Walker and Hall, to make a suitable statuette.
Working from drawings supplied by a sculptor, Walker and Hall obliged for the princely sum of £195(NZ), and the statuette duly arrived. Fairbairn took one look at the figure representing the goodness and excellence of sport and uttered an oath: “Whack those Pommie shorts off him, give him some Kiwi ones and that’ll do.” The sculptor had faithfully clothed the figure in the fashionable English shorts of the day, baggy and knee-length with pockets. Inscribed on the trophy are the words: “The New Zealand Sportsman’s Trophy to be awarded annually to the New Zealand athlete whose personal performances or example have had the most beneficial effect on the advancement of sport in this country.”
The Halberg Awards Today
The Halberg Awards is a must-see event, broadcast live on Sky TV each February with much fanfare and anticipation. New Zealand’s sporting equivalent of the Oscars, it is an opportunity to celebrate sporting achievement, but also to discuss and debate which athlete or team deserves this most prestigious sporting accolade.
The Awards also continue to generate vital funding for the Halberg Foundation, which uses the money to enhance the lives of physically disabled New Zealanders by enabling them to participate in sport and recreation.