Lessons from the medal tally and the Miracle Games

By Alexander Rheeney 18 July 2019, 6:58AM

Samoa is three days away from bringing the curtain down on a successful 2019 XVI Pacific Games, and the medal tally in itself is already separating the big boys from the rest of the tribe.

As predicted by many sporting pundits, the French territory of New Caledonia flew into Samoa on a mission to reclaim their throne as the region’s top sporting nation, after they were unseated at the top by Papua New Guinea at the 2015 edition of the Pacific Games in the PNG capital Port Moresby.

By the end of the 2015 edition of the Games in Port Moresby, PNG had amassed a record 217 medals which included 88 gold, 69 silver and 60 bronze. New Caledonia came second with a total of 166 medals comprising 59 gold, 50 silver and 57 bronze, and their French compatriots Tahiti followed in third with a total of 113 medals made up of 39 gold, 34 silver and 40 bronze.

Back to the Games in Samoa, New Caledonia as of last night had a total of 131 medals with 61 gold, 39 silver and 31 bronze and counting. And looking at the number of competitive sports left as the countdown starts to the Games’ closing ceremony this Saturday, New Caledonia is highly unlikely to better PNG’s record in the last edition of the two-week regional sporting event.

But forget New Caledonia and PNG and look at the host Samoa and how they have jumped out of the blocks with both feet! It took them 15 months to prepare for the 2019 Games, after the Samoa Government’s bid to host was given the thumbs up by the Pacific Games Council in late 2017, and looking at the performance of its athletes you would have thought they had four years to prepare! 

Samoa’s 500 athletes have certainly risen to the occasion, if the 89 medals they have so far achieved (comprising 27 gold, 30 silver and 32 bronze is any indication) is any indication. We look forward to more exceptional performances by Team Samoa as the Games draws to a close. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi described the sporting event – which the country is hosting for the third time – as the “miracle games” and the miracle is certainly working. As of last night, Samoa was sitting third, having being leapfrogged by Australia which now finds itself nicely seated second on the tally.

Questions have already been asked as to how Australia and New Zealand joined the meeting of Pacific’s sporting nations and territories in the first place, spurred by the recent controversy surrounding Kiwi transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard and her Pacific Games gold medal lift of 268kg in the women’s 7kg category. 

But Samoa’s Pacific Games Committee Chair and Minister of Education, Sports and Culture, Loau Keneti Sio, has indicated that the Games are bound by the rules and regulations of international sporting bodies such as the International Olympic Committee (I.O.C.) and the International Weightlifting Federation (I.W.F.).

“They (I.O.C. and I.W.F.) have allowed New Zealand transgender Laurel Hubbard to lift in the women’s category and there is nothing we can do about it," he said. 

“We all know that it is not fair to the women lifters but that is the reality we face in the world of sports. The rules have changed and we cannot deviate from these rules.”

The Pacific Games Council President Vidhya Lakhan also says Australia and New Zealand’s participation in the Games is to ensure that the two-week event is recognised globally. 

Well the participation of Australia and New Zealand should give the region a reality check, in terms of where each nation and territory stands, when it comes to investment in sports and development. The respective governments of the participating teams should do a postmortem on how much funding and resources they have individually made into sports in their home countries and territories.

If we want an example of a worst case scenario, in terms of neglect of investment in sports, we just have to look at the abysmal performance of PNG in the 2019 edition of the Games and note how they have crashed from being the top sporting nation four years ago to sixth position last night. 

Now back to the miracle games that is Samoa, our athletes in the last remaining competitive sports should know that we are all behind them in heart and spirit. The nation had 15 months to prepare – so who says a miracle is not possible – for Samoa to end this memorable event by being in the top three. In God we trust.

Have a wonderful Thursday everyone and God bless all our athletes.

By Alexander Rheeney 18 July 2019, 6:58AM

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