Most of Samoa's Special Olympics athletes missed out on Games
Samoa's Special Olympics athletes did not compete in the 2019 XVI Pacific Games due to the lack of time and the absence of Special Olympics sports in the Pacific Games Charter.
Samoa was one of few countries that did not have many Paralympic athletes competing in para-sporting events during the July 7-20 regional sporting event in Samoa. Apart from sailing, there was no one else.
Chief Executive Officer of Loto Taumafai, Leta'a Daniel Devoe, told Samoa Observer they wanted to compete in the 2019 Pacific Games and sought advise from the Government last year in relation to the participation of local Special Olympics athletes.
They met with Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi to discuss the matter, including the option of Samoa's Special Olympics athletes having their own event to compete in.
"So the Honourable Prime Minster did contact S.A.S.N.O.C. (Samoa Association of Sports and National Olympic Committee) with regards to allowing Special Olympics Samoa or Special Olympics in the Pacific to be part of the Pacific Games 2019, and whether we’re going to be involved with those events or whether will have our own events separate from that, and we will still have our medal presentations just like other ordinary sports," he said.
"However, we were informed that because of the timing, it was too late and not only that, the Pacific Games Charter did not include athletes with intellectual disability."
The Pacific Games Council Charter only includes para sport events, and not Special Olympics sports. Para sports or adaptive sports are separate from Special Olympics. The Special Olympics is only for athletes with intellectual disabilities while Paralympic can be a part of any one or is a combination of six main disabilities categories: spinal injuries, amputee, cerebral palsy, visual impairment and intellectual impairment.
The Prime Minister called out S.A.S.N.O.C. on the matter recently during his weekly radio interview, saying the organisation should have resolved the issue to enable Samoans to participate.
"One of the lessons learnt from the Pacific Games is that I saw Paralympic people from all the other countries participate while we cheer, but we have athletes who play in the Olympics and return with gold medals," he said.
"Our office requested to see if they could and they said they cannot, it was very disappointing. We (Samoa archery) have an athlete in a wheelchair, and yet an athlete from Tahiti in a wheelchair could shoot. These are the things S.A.S.N.O.C. should have looked into."
Only two Samoans – who both have cerebral palsy – competed in a para sport event in sailing. Jordon Milroy and first-time contender, 11-year-old Eli Kapu-Craig won a bronze medal.
"We were very proud about Milroy and Krieg that they did participate and got a bronze medal in parasailing," said Leta'a.
Leta'a said he was happy a reason was given for the oversight by the local sports officials, which now makes him more determined to ensure Samoa's Special Olympic athletes compete in the 2023 Pacific Games.
With the next Pacific Games scheduled to be held in Honiara, Leta'a said the Solomon Islands has a special Olympics program and they will make contact with officials and begin lobbying the government.
"It’s just because if it’s not in the Pacific Games Charter then we understand, but we did ask and when we got the reply we were happy with it and so at least they are looking at it for future Pacific Games," he said.
"Well really like Tuilaepa said, you don’t mix sport with politics but we will still lobby our different sporting bodies like S.A.S.N.O.C. or whoever is our member in the Pacific Games – we will lobby to ensure that special Olympic athletes will be included – even if it’s a different competition."
Leta'a said their whole objective now is to push for inclusiveness in the Pacific Games and showcasing the abilities of the Special Olympic athletes, with a separate level of competition but still being part of the Games.
"What we would like to see happen is that we would be included in the opening ceremony and have our own separate events during the games, medals may not be necessarily included in the medal tally for the pacific games. But we will have our own medal tally and we will have our own competition, and we would like to be involved in the closing ceremony, inclusion is very important."