Exciting times to live in the Pacific

Editorial, Normal

The National, Monday July 6th, 2015

 Images of Saturday night’s spectacular opening ceremony of the Pacific Games are no doubt fresh in the minds of many across the Pacific, including Papua New Guineans themselves.

The ceremony was another display of the country’s cultural diversity, enthusiastically staged by groups representative of all four regions of the country. 

Of course a lot of that diversity has similarities elsewhere in the Pacific and many of our visitors at the BSP Arena might have been reminded of home.  

Thanks to local TV network EMTV and a number of international media outlets those images have been beamed to homes in PNG, across the Oceania region and further afield.

The guest of honour, the Duke of York, Prince Andrew, who officially declared the Games open, was amazed by the display. 

“I would first like to congratulate everybody involved on a truly spectacular opening ceremony,” said Prince Andrew. It has showcased a model of diversity, and inclusion, something that I know in Papua New Guinea is very, very important to them.”

The Duke of York then presented a message from the Queen. “Prince Phillip and I send our best wishes to the Government and people of Papua New Guinea on the occasion of the 15th Pacific Games,” he said.

“I am pleased to see that Australia and New Zealand will be participating in the Games for the first time this year. It is encouraging to see 24 countries from around the Pacific region coming together every four years through sport, to reinforce their common bonds and shared interests.

“I wish all the teams the best of luck in the competition over the next two weeks,” Her Majesty said.

Sports in the Pacific have made great strides in recent years. An active involvement in all manner of organised sports is more than just competing for athletic supremacy but has instead become a proven catalyst for social and economic changes in individuals and communities. 

Such a development has spread across the Pacific and the four-yearly regional games is testament to that. The Papua New Guinea Government has invested a lot in the Games through the construction of facilities as well as training athletes for individual and team sports.

The level of competitiveness by the participating countries over the years has given the Pacific Games Council reason to trial out for the first time to invite and include Australia and New Zealand.

This could well be the initial steps of turning the Pacific Games into a truly Continental Games but that would entail much more work by the Pacific island nations to get to levels established by Australia and New Zealand. That can happen and is the only way for sports to go if a truly international-competitiveness is to be achieved.

In his speech at the opening of Saturday, Pacific Games Council chairman Vidhya Lakhan pointed to the importance of the sporting event. “Sport is not only seen but is now recognised as perhaps the best medium to promote the values of excellence, respect and friendship in tackling some of the social problems facing us today, he said. “As the largest premier event which brings together the peoples of the Pacific Islands nations every four years, the Pacific Games continues to grow in stature. Over the next two weeks the sporting world will be focusing on our Games, our athletes and our host nation Papua New Guinea. Therefore it is our moment in time to showcase ourselves as true ambassadors of our respective sports, as true ambassadors of our respective countries, participating in these Games, promoting the ideals of fair play, showing respect for your fellow athletes while striving for excellence.” 

Sports aside, the Pacific, which consists of hundreds of tiny islands flung far apart, has many social and economic challenges, faced in varying degrees by the nations and territories. 

A single unifying event like that which is upon us now gives all a moment to rise above those challenges and be thankful for what we have rather than bemoan what we don’t. The words of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill on the opening of the 15th Pacific Games, should therefore not ring hollow: “These are exciting times to live in the Pacific.”