A Super Rugby clash between the Highlanders and the table-topping Crusaders was called off Saturday as a mark of respect for those killed in the deadly mosque attacks in Christchurch.
The two teams were due to kick off in Dunedin, but the Christchurch-based Crusaders will now return home “to be with their community”.
The decision was made after meetings with both teams, venue management, and police.
“Advice from police and venue management was that the fixture could go ahead,” said New Zealand Rugby’s chief rugby officer Nigel Cass.
“However, with strong agreement from both teams we have made the final call not to proceed as a mark of respect for the events that have occurred in Christchurch.”
Crusaders chief executive Colin Mansbridge said the club was in shock after 49 people were killed by a right-wing extremist who attacked two mosques on Friday.
“Yesterday’s horrific attacks have left us all feeling stunned. All other issues and considerations pale in significance,” he said.
“We will now regroup and make arrangements for the team to return home as soon as possible to be back in their community and with their families.”
Highlanders chief Roger Clark said despite the match being the biggest fixture on their calendar “we feel this is the right decision”, with refunds offered to ticket holders.
It follows the cancellation of the third cricket Test between New Zealand and Bangladesh, which was due to start in Christchurch on Saturday, in the wake of the attacks.
Across the world, the attack has been condemned and many have offered their condolences to those who lost loved ones.
Amongst those who have expressed their sadness is rugby star Sonny Bill Williams, who sent an emotional message in the wake of the attack.
An imam who was leading prayers at a Christchurch mosque when a gunman brandishing semi-automatic weapons mowed down his congregation said Saturday that the Muslim community’s love for New Zealand would not be shaken by the massacre.
“We still love this country,” said Ibrahim Abdul Halim, imam of Linwood Mosque, vowing that extremists would “never ever touch our confidence”.
Halim gave a harrowing account of the moment during Friday prayers when gunshots rang out in the mosque, replacing peaceful reflection with screaming, bloodshed and death.
“Everyone laid down on the floor, and some women started crying, some people died immediately,” he said.