The National, Friday July 31st, 2015
THE Government has been exceedingly generous in rewarding its athletes for a successful Pacific Games campaign.
The amount of money promised to the medal winners as well those who did not win any medals, will be close to K7 million. That kind of funding for the sole purpose of thanking and rewarding athletes for showing superlative form at an international sports event is commendable.
Getting paid K20,000 for winning a gold medal is now the standard for Papua New Guinea athletes. Getting paid K10,000 and K5000 for the next best results is no laughing matter either in a country where the incomes for the majority of people are considered barely above the poverty line. The decision to pay these amounts to athletes was made late last year but in the euphoria and goodwill that imbued the nation or more precisely the nation’s capital at the conclusion of the Games, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill extended his hand of generosity further by announcing that every other athlete would get K2500.
But if he was so willing to ensure no one went unrewarded for a great collective effort then surely he could have included the coaches and team officials. To leave them out was a disservice.
Elite sportsmen and women in PNG are no longer seen as the best in the country but strive to be the best in the region and ultimately the world.
That kind of dedication and commitment calls for a reward or a set of rewards commensurate with the time and effort put into preparation and execution in the name of the country.
While these individuals do not actually perform acts that have a tangible and practical effect on the fortunes of the nation, they do contribute in boosting national pride and the status of the country.
That has to be worth something. But getting paid a tax free, do-with-it-as-you-please lump sum for winning a race, scoring more points, kicking more goals, hitting more targets, sinking more shots and so on is setting a precedent and the expectations of the our sportsmen and women, not to mention the support staff, has been raised.
In truth the Government has been negligent in its handling of the incentives for Team PNG. The money paid to medal winners is welcomed, albeit the amounts may be a little too high, the message has been clear from the O’Neill Government in that success is worth a kina amount while participation and presence is worth something as well.
If the Government is to apply this logic across the board for Team PNG then it must apply it to every member of the contingent from the athletes to the coaches and support staff.
That is a fair process. One cannot pay one part of the team for execution and forget about the guidance, direction and help that went into getting the athlete on the podium.
It is true that once the athlete steps onto the competition stage, they are on their own – their fortunes lie in their hands alone.
Some coaches brought in to help train and mentor the athletes have been paid for their services while others who have willingly given their time and effort have been left by the wayside. This imbalance in itself has been a cause for consternation.
The concerns of these coaches and support staff must be addressed in some way. It would be a great injustice to Team PNG as a whole if nothing was done to correct this imbalance.
One hopes the Government can take this into account at the next major event or when deciding how to reward sports teams.
PNG swim great Ryan Pini said during the closing ceremony that the Games were first and foremost about the athletes but even he would appreciate what his coaches and mentors have done for him over his long and successful career.
The other issue that is related to this has come from the Games volunteers. With all the money being promised to Team PNG members, some in this group have called for their services and efforts to be recognised as well.
While one can sympathise with them, there is absolutely no room for compromise here.
Being a volunteer means one does work for the good of the community or others without expecting and wanting payment.
That seems to be a foreign concept to some in the volunteers ranks who sadly have this all too prevalent handout mentality.