Pacific Games: a brilliant start and stars to watch

The scenes at the Pacific Games opening ceremony were unbelievable. Apia Park was filled with melodious Samoan songs and vibrant traditional island dress from participating nations. Fireworks and laser shows completed the magical scenes. Some have labelled the 16th Pacific Ganes as the ‘miracle games’ because of the challenges the organisers have faced in the leadup. But it looks set to go on as it started, with colour, culture and community.

The XVI edition of the Pacific Games was to be hosted by Tonga, but the Kingdom had to withdraw from hosting duties for financial reasons.  “We cannot afford that large amount of money and we do not have the number of people and sport events to use these facilities from time to time to generate funds for the upkeep”, said Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva at the time.

Tempers flared between the Kingdom and the Pacific Games committee, leading to a civil case matter of breach in contract. Pacific Games Committee CEO Andrew Minogue said:“the Committee was seeking damages for the losses that the organisation has suffered as a result of that unilateral decision with no consultation from the Government”.

Then Samoa stepped in.

Doing it Fa’a Samoa: The Samoan Way.

Sponsors for the games flowed like a raging river during monsoon season and the WST$9 million (US$ 3.4 million) target for the budget was acquired in just over five months. The Director of Sponsorship Tagaloa Faafouina Su’a did not hold back his feelings of happiness and gratitude in sharing the news.

“We have reached our target through faith – never thought this would have been achieved without God’s guidance. It was a massive challenge from the outset. Praise God! Nehemiah built the walls of Jerusalem in only 52 days. We have only prepared these Games within 12 months and against all odds we have done it “Our sponsors, our partners, our staff, our people, our country, our Games…Samoa we on!”

Prominent phone and Internet broadband network company Digicel is the Games first official major sponsor. They were followed by more than 21 local companies registered as supporting minor sponsors and partners of the game.

The massive wave of support flowed throughout the local communities with villages, churches and schools getting involved. Samoa’s Minister for Sports Loau Keneti Sio shared his views on the matter: “The Games Organising Committee acknowledges the support of the Methodist Church of Samoa Board in making special allowances to help accommodate for athletes and team officials. Hosting athletes and team officials within the Faleula compound not only helps alleviate our transport and security services, it will make these Games extra special. Being based within a Samoan village environment will provide insight and appreciation into our Samoan way of doing things.”

The Methodist Church of Samoa plays a key component as it provided room for the athletes villages. The accommodation included 63 houses and four school compounds. George Brown pre and primary schools, Wesley College and Laumua Punaoa Technical Centre are hosting over 4000 athletes over the two weeks period.

Local schools adopted a neighbouring nation, learning about them and providing a school-aged cheer squad.

And if that is not a good enough reason to show the true spirit of unity and togetherness of the Samoans then this next report will definitely clear all doubts. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi also competing in the Games. He won the silver back in 2007. This outing he was less successful, but he bought the same spirit to the competition. You can shoot sport with just about any camera, but some cameras offer special features that can give you a very good chance to catch the exact and perfect shot.

Incorporating Samoan culture into the Pacific Games.

Over 2,300 medals will be awarded at the Games with about 323 individual medal ceremonies. The medals are infused with Samoan culture. Each gold, silver and bronze bears a flower graphic incorporating stylised images of the tava’esina, a native breed of bird and fish.

The government of Samoa also released a $10 note to commemorate the games. The words Tasi i le Agaga are printed on the notes, which translate as ‘One in Spirit’, the official Games slogan.

#SamoaWeOn is also trending on social media, started by the organisers in supporting the togetherness of the country as they host the Games.

Promoting a safe, clean and green Samoa

To keep the Games clean and free of banned performance-enhancing drugs, the services of the Oceania regional anti-doping organisation in collaboration with world anti-doping organisation and Australia Sports Anti-Doping Authority have been enlisted.

The Games also seek to be clean in other ways. With the ‘Greening of the Games’ initiative, Samoa was able to secure water stations for the games and promote reusable or recyclable products during the two weeks span.

Pacific Stars align in Apia once more

About 5,000 athletes and officials are attending the games in Apia and with the massive gathering of some Pacific sporting icons, great things will follow.

Pacific Games defending champions Papua New Guinea named a strong 48 members squad. Seven defending gold medalists are returning to defend their titles including Pacific sprint queen Toea Wisil.

Swimming is one of the Games’ drawcards. In 2015 Caledonia swept the women’s category with Lara Grangeon, Emma Terebo, Adeline Williams and Diane Bui Duyet claiming gold medals and smashing records inside the pool. New Caledonia will be banking on them once again this year. The only Pacific Games women’s swimming record that does not belong to the New Caledonian is the 100m freestyle which was set back in 2007 by Fiji’s Caroline Pickering. Certainly that will be the target for the New Cal ladies in Apia. We can also expect Amini Fonua of Tonga and Rahiti de Vos of Tahiti to own events in the men’s competition.

Weightlifting is on the rise again in the Pacific as seen by Fiji’s hosting of thet IWF Junior World Weightlifting Championships last month. Some potentially great talents were spotted in the Fiji event. Young lifter from Samoa Feagaiga Stowers was the talk of the town as she bagged three medals in the competition including a gold medal in the 87kg snatch category. The champion Toua sisters, Thelma and Dika with Morea Baru are some of the more common names to watch for during the games in their respective categories. Pacific Games 2015 bronze medalist and 21 year old Australian Kiana Elliot will also be looking for redemption come game day in the 69kg category.

In the men’s category, Don Opeloge of Samoa will be hunting for a gold medal in the Pacific Games as well. The 20-year old won gold in the 89 kg clean & jerk and best overall male lifter in the recent Junior World Weightlifting Championships. Stephen Kari who is a Pacific legend in the sport, hopes to do Papua New Guinea proud by claiming victory in the 94kg category. Climate Change warrior David Katoatau of Kiribati, famous for dancing in front of a packed arena at the Summer Olympics in Rio 2016 after completing his clean & jerk lift, will also attract a herd of support.

About 58 athletes are representing Australia in Apia including a few Olympians and Commonwealth Games participants. Youth Olympic gold medalist Keely Small in the 800m, Commonwealth Games track hurdlers Brianna Beahan and Ian Dewhurst, hammer thrower Alexandra Hulley, and triple jumper Emmanuel Fakiye are in the squad. London 2012 Olympics 400m finalists Steven Solomon with 100 & 200 metres specialist and dual Olympian Melissa Breen complete the high-profile roster.

Fiji has been preparing well for the games and sends a hefty team to Apia. This year’s games will see the return of the sprint king, 100 and 200m record holder Banuve Tabakaucoro after some years away from the track.  Team Fiji is also expected to feature strongly in soccer, rugby, rugby league, touch rugby, volleyball, netball and basketball.

Soccer will be a usual battle between Vanuatu, Solomons and Fiji, with former A-League star Roy Krishna as team captain.  Krishna recently signed with ATK (Atletico de Kolkata) a club in the Indian Super League but his inclusion will certainly boost the ‘Bula Boys’ performance in their matches.

However, in any contest it is wise to never write off the competition. There are 27 sports altogether (17 compulsory and 10 optional sports). And with 24 participating countries including Australia and New Zealand, we just never know what can happen. Smaller island regional nations such as Nauru, Tuvalu, Tokelau, Palau, FSM and Marshall Islands will also provide strong competition.

The next ten days..and beyond

The Games have made a brilliant start and all signs point to a highly successful competition.

Palau has indicated its interests in hosting the next Games.  But Samoa has set a standard that will be hard for future hosts to meet.

Wishing all the participating athletes and teams the very best in all their events at this Pacific Games. And may all plans of the organisers be fruitful and prosperous.

Tofa Soifua!