APIA, 24 JULY 2019 (SAMOA OBSERVER)—Plans are underway to make the Pacific Games the continental Games of the Oceania with the inclusion of Australia and New Zealand, says Games Council President, Vidhya Lakhan.
In an interview with the Samoa Observer, the President said they plan to merge the Oceania Games and Pacific Games to avoid duplications of sporting meets, but the event will retain its name and will still be known as the Pacific Games.
He added With Australia and New Zealand joining, our athletes can directly qualify for the Olympic Games.
“All we are asking for is international recognition, for the Pacific Games to be the regional Games for the Oceania.
“What we are trying to do is merge the Pacific Games and Oceania Games, so you will see like in weightlifting they are also awarding Oceania medals, so they are recognising this as their Oceania competition, and that’s why Australia and NZ are part of weightlifting.
“Oceania Games can stay at is it is, but we are trying to avoid duplication. You come to the Pacific Games with expenses, and two months later you go to the Oceania Games you play against the same people, extra costs, so we are saying no, one Games, you can award Oceania medals, we will award Pacific Games medals.”
Lakhan said the only way that the athletes will be recognised in the international circuit is if the Pacific Games is regarded as an Oceania Games, where all the members of Oceania take part.
“What happens is the International Federation is the one that gives us that sanction, like weightlifting, so we get permission from weightlifting federation. Weightlifting in Pacific Games and you make it qualifying for Tokyo, than they say these are the rules you must comply with, and the rule says that everybody in the Oceania must take part. So then we invite Australia and New Zealand to take part.
“That is why we are slowly bringing Australia and New Zealand. We have had cases where Fiji’s women’s basketball team won gold and were asked to go to Spain to play a European team to qualify.
“We are a continent and our gold medalists should get direct entry into Olympic Games, world championships etc. so that is what we are working towards.”
He explained another way of getting athletes to be recognised is through ranking points,
“If you win medals in a certain sports, than you move up in ranking. So that is the sort of recognition we are looking for in our athletes. We will negotiate with international federation and show them our sports programmes and tell them we want you to make your sport a qualifying event.
“Sometimes it’s a bit too late because these international federations have their calendar for seven years, so they already may have a qualifying event somewhere.”
Lakhan said another reason for the inclusion of the region’s development partners, is to provide high-level competition for the athletes in the islands.
“We want islanders to improve and the only way you can improve is when you have tough competition, so Australia and New Zealand are there.
“We will discuss with them where they will bring in athletes who will give good competition to our athletes, who will raise our standard, so that’s what we are working towards. I am so pleased to hear that French speaking countries, Tahiti, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, and Vanuatu, they have an M.O.U. that will allow them to help each other lift the standard of their athletes.
“You are not good, if Australia is beating you than you are not good. The answer is you have to lift your game, don’t tell me you don’t want high level of competition.
“People have been complaining about New Caledonia, they dominate medal tally, so what are you doing, why don’t you dominate? Papua New Guinea dominated in 2015; all their athletes were training in Australia for about six months. So don’t say we don’t want Australia and New Zealand because they’ll dominate.
“No, Australia and New Zealand performance becomes a benchmark for you, that’s what we have to lift our performance to, to get into medal contention because if Australia and New Zealand are not there I am happy where I am, I don’t have to improve, so that’s what we are trying to change.
“We know our athletes our capable, they have the talent, but we need something to push them, so they can push themselves up, and we think high level competition at these Games.”
Lakhan further said Australia and New Zealand are also spending a lot of money in the region to develop grassroots sports.
“New Caledonia has really good programmes for grassroots development. So we want each country to do the same, and Australia and New Zealand are helping us. That’s the direction we are going, what we want do is to have our athletes direct entry into international championships, Olympics, Commonwealth.”
He said for the time being both Australia and New Zealand will remain as associate members, and when the time is right will be granted full membership.
“What we want to do is give our people the confidence that they can compete with Australia and New Zealand in given time. At the moment in some of the sports, we are way behind. When the time is right, we think we are almost on equal footing, than perhaps yes they could be made full members with equal rights.”
Asked if the two countries membership will affect the say and rights of the islanders, Lakhan said: “At the moment Australia and NZ have speaking rights but no voting rights. No body’s rights will be diminished as they will enjoy all the rights they have been enjoying now.”
He said six countries have put their hands up to host the Games in 2027, which the Council has to discuss.
“Tonga lost the opportunity to host the Games. They gave some reasons, which we thought doesn’t hold, they are personalities rather than anything else.
“So what will happen is the six countries, Fiji, Tonga, Guam, Tahiti, Vanuatu, and American Samoa, who are bidding to host 2027 Pacific Games, we will start talking with them, send them the papers and all that, that they will have to correspond with first, and then we will do an evaluation.
“We would be very careful with countries who have bid and pulled out, or have been very difficult after getting the bid, because we just don’t have the time and energy to renegotiate the contract and pushing them to deliver, there are no compulsion.
“If you want to host, it is clear these are the terms and conditions you have to sign under the contract please deliver. Don’t tell us it was the previous government, not this government.
“We don’t force anybody to organize the games, they raise their hands and if they want to they have to respect the charter, protocols and regulations and you have to deliver the Games the way the council wants you to deliver.”
Over the years,Lakhan highlighted, the Pacific Islanders through the Games, have become stronger.
We now own the Games, the council is now in a reasonable financial footing, and we are beginning to professionalise the delivery of our game, and that is much more recognition of the Pacific Games as a regional games. A number of international federations are recognising the results of our games.”