FOR the next nine days, the nation’s focus will be on the 4th PNG Games currently underway in Port Moresby, and it promises to be a challenging yet worthwhile endeavour for all those involved.
Some 6,000 athletes and officials, from each of the country’s 19 provinces and the National Capital District, will compete in 23 sports in what newly appointed Sports Minister Philemon Embel described as an event that would truly “unite” this diverse nation.
And that is the whole purpose of this exercise because over the years, especially the last 10 or so, there has been an increasing realisation and shift by business houses and legislators to use sport as a medium to achieve social and developmental goals.
This is the fourth instalment of a concept that began in Goroka in 2003 and was aptly termed the “Grassroots Olympics”.
The idea behind this was simple enough, it aimed to gather the youth from communities around the nation and harness their physical potential.
Youth who would otherwise have not had the opportunity to compete in such competitions with their peers.
An enormous pool of potential is on show. Young people who have, for reasons that are becoming more common in the country today, been marginalised and given little or no opportunity to express themselves in positive, healthy and meaningful pursuits.
Success stories abound from previous national games.
Stories like those of sprinter Toea Wisil and long distance runner Poro Garokaveh to name but two individuals who grasped the opportunity when it presented itself in previous games.
They have both gone on to represent the nation as elite sportswomen.
It has now grown in scope and size with this year’s event being easily by far the biggest and most expensive Games to date.
With an initial estimated budget of K2 million to start off preparations, Games organisers the PNG Games Council and Host Organising Committee (HOC), have borne the responsibility of delivering a successful event in a short timeframe and with the typical sluggishness of bureaucracy and usual laidback PNG style that plague almost any significant undertaking in the country.
Event manageress Mary Karo has shown amazing resilience and an inordinate amount of patience and calm in putting together an effective working unit to see out the implementation of the HOC’s directives.
For her, it has not been an easy ride since coming into the fray mid-stride after the former event manager, Ivan Ravu, opted out of the position several months ago.
It is certainly a tribute to her strong will, tenacity and determination to see the show through and kudos must go to her and her management team as well.
The weeks and days leading up to the opening ceremony have been hectic for hosts NCD and the HOC.
Large contingents have travelled into the nation’s capital on the back of some 11th hour appeals that have come good while others have been injected with funding at the very last minute by sponsors, including their respective provincial governments or Members of Parliament.
It has not been easy and, dare we say, that the organisers of provincial teams have had many sleepless nights and 24-hour days trying to get everyone on their lists to the Games.
It would be easy to choose a small team and bring in a cross-section of the provincial community to fly the provincial flag but that is not what these Games are about.
It is, and should be, about opportunity and participation.
It should be about coming together and sharing as a people and remembering why we are one nation.
Australian Paralympian and a four-time winner of the New York marathon, Kurt Fearnley, spoke in awe of the kindness and the welcoming spirit that he experienced from the people staying along the Kokoda Track.
He said it showed what a special place PNG was, and how it had made his trip worthwhile and his achievement that much more memorable.
It is these people, these youth, more specifically young Papua New Guineans out in the provinces, the districts and the rural areas, for whom these Games are being held.
We wish all athletes the very best and urge every competitor to participate in the spirit of sportsmanship and be excellent ambassadors for your provinces.