Uniting a nation: The 2023 Pacific Games and the power of sports in fostering national unity and pride

Photo: SOL23

The opening ceremony of the 2023 Pacific Games was an event of unparalleled magnificence, a moment in time that will be etched in the memories of all who were present. For those of us fortunate enough to be in the stadium that evening, the vivid display of colours, the overwhelming joy, and the profound sense of pride and camaraderie among all the teams created an atmosphere of elation that will be treasured for years to come. A particularly unforgettable moment was the entrance of Team Solomon, led by the illustrious Jenny Wini, known affectionately as the Gold Lady. The stadium erupted in a massive wave of pride as the team paraded, adorned in the vibrant green, yellow, and blue hues of the Solomon Islands national flag. This event marked a rare and much-needed moment of national unity for the Solomon Islands, bringing together its people in a shared celebration of their culture and spirit.

I have had the privilege of witnessing numerous national events throughout my lifetime, but never have I seen such a spontaneous and genuine expression of national pride and unity as I did during this opening ceremony. It was a singularly spectacular occasion that captured the attention of the entire Pacific region and placed Solomon Islands and its capital, Honiara, in the international spotlight. For the first time in many years, the images broadcast from Honiara were not of civil unrest or turmoil, but of jubilant celebration, a vivid display of national pride, and a testament to the transformative power of sports.

The 2023 Pacific Games opening ceremony has been hailed by many as one of the best in the history of the event. Immense gratitude and commendation must be extended to all those who supported the Games from inception, and to the participating teams whose enthusiasm and spirit added a unique flavour to the festivities. Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s role in this monumental event cannot be overstated. His vision and leadership in harnessing the unifying power of sports have achieved what few leaders before him have managed. By orchestrating one of the most well-organized sporting events in the 60-year history of the Games, he has not only united the Pacific region but also attracted increased attention and development assistance from global powers. While there are undoubtedly trade-offs and costs associated with this strategy, the potential benefits for our economy, social sector, business environment, and commitment to clean energy are immense.

The opening ceremony also highlighted the tremendous potential of our youth, as evidenced by their creative contributions to the event. This showcases their ability to lead community development initiatives, underscoring the need for strong, visionary leadership to harness this potential effectively. Prime Minister Sogavare, regardless of various opinions about his leadership, has demonstrated an exceptional ability to influence and transform the geopolitical landscape of our region.

Reflecting on the ceremony, two key themes stand out. Firstly, the legacy of the Pacific Games, particularly in fostering greater national identity and unity through sports, is paramount. At the Solomon Islands National University (SINU), I am spearheading the development of sports programmes and advocating for sports scholarships to encourage participation in local competitions and international events like the World University Games. This initiative, in partnership with the National Sports Council, aims to build on the legacy of the Games and reinforce our national unity through sports. Secondly, the ceremony highlighted the growing inequity in our society. Outside the stadium, many young people who wished to attend the event were unable to do so due to financial constraints and limited seating. This underscores the importance of our collective effort to build a more inclusive society, where opportunities and experiences are accessible to all. The power of sports, as demonstrated in the opening ceremony, can be a vital tool in achieving this goal. Through sports, we can bridge divides, foster a sense of community, and inspire a new generation to strive for excellence and unity.