Council review of 2019 XVI Pacific Games timely

It was hard to keep track of time the last two weeks with the 2019 XVI Pacific Games in full steam and the performance of our athletes taking center stage.

After a fortnight of adrenaline rush, the curtains were brought down on Saturday night in an epic closing ceremony, and preparations now begin in earnest for the next one in the Solomon Islands capital Honiara.

The announcement by the Pacific Games Council of a review of the 2019 edition of the region’s largest sporting event here in Samoa is a welcome development, especially after the controversy within the local weightlifting fraternity over the participation of New Zealand’s Laurel Hubbard. 

Pacific Games Council President Vidhya Lakhan told the Samoa Observer in an exclusive interview that a review is on the cards, and the Hubbard controversy is one of a number of issues that will be scrutinized.

Mr. Lakhan said the transgender issue will also be discussed by the Games Council.

“It’ll be taken into consideration when they do the review and in that review we will also consult the international federations, what is their policy, because the sport belongs to them not to us.

“So the Weightlifting Federation will tell us what the policies on transgender athletes taking part are. Those international federations who are silent, and who may leave it to the Games Council to make a decision, then hopefully by the next Games, the Council will have a position on transgender athletes. 

“At the moment we are just guarded by international federation rules because this is something new that has just cropped up.”

Let us hope that the Council’s deliberations will lead to a good outcome for our women weightlifters, who despite claims to the contrary, will always be at a disadvantage if and when they compete against a transgender.

The Council will also discuss the impact that a large number of athletes will have on a host nation, and use Samoa’s hosting of over 5000 athletes as a test case, to determine whether a cap on the number of athletes from participating nations and territories will need to be introduced at the next edition of the Games.

Mr. Lakhan said having 5000 athletes in the Pacific Games is “too big” and the numbers should be reduced in order to minimise the financial impact on the host nation. 

“We also look at athlete numbers. I’ve already told my sports committee that 5,000 athletes in the Pacific Games is too big, so we have to look at reducing the size of the Games because our island nations are not that big, that they can afford to host and cater for transport for these numbers of people,” he said.

“Whether we have too many team sports, if we do, what can we do to bring the numbers to a manageable level, so we don’t want countries to say or the number is too big, we can’t host. So it must be manageable, something we can afford to host. Those are some of the things we will do.”

The decision by the Games Council to address the issue of athlete numbers is long overdue, as often after the Games, it is the host nations that are left with the bills to settle and the residue of over 3000-5000 people who were temporary residents for only two weeks of the regional sporting event.

But would putting a cap on athlete numbers attending an edition of the Pacific Games help the cause of nations and territories who fly in bigger sporting teams to improve their chances of topping the medal tally? Would these nations and territories’ attempts to top the medal tally be scuttled by such moves?

There is no doubt that New Caledonia topped the 2019 XVI Pacific Games medal tally due to the large pool of talent that they flew over to Samoa. Estimates put the New Caledonia numbers at about 400 with Papua New Guinea, which was runner up in this year’s edition of the Games, at about 370. 

Obviously the conversation should start now with all participating nations and territories on these thorny issues, which should be resolved before the Solomon Islands 2023 XVII Pacific Games gets underway in Honiara.

Have a lovely Monday Samoa and God bless.

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