The National, Tuesday May 12th, 2015
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has made a bold declaration and thrown down a challenge about the biggest event on the national calendar – the Pacific Games.
It will be the best ever and Papua New Guinea must finish on top of the medal tally.
“This year we are going to host the Pacific Games in the country and it is going to be the best Games ever in history,” O’Neill said.
“The Government has of course put a lot of investment into the Games and we not only expect a good outcome but more gold medals for our country.
“We want to finish on top and not behind Fiji and New Caledonia.
“We will be ready in 60 days, we have no doubt whatsoever. I can assure you that.”
He made the remark last Friday while launching the Lae leg of the PM’s Corporate Golf Challengea fundraising event for the national sports contingent.
O’Neill’s statements leave the people, the athletes, officials and Games organisers only one option – to get behind the commander-in-chief and make it happen.
Despite only taking place in one location in Papua New Guinea, the country has embraced the region’s largest sporting event as evidenced by the reception the Oil Search Relay Baton is receiving as it traverses the length and breadth of the country. With a K1.2 billion (US$434 million) price tag the Games is setting the benchmark for size and scope of the event. And added on that is the fact that this will be the first Games to have teams from Australia and New Zealand competing in selected sports: Weightlifting, sailing, taekwondo and rugby sevens.
The participation of these two countries ensures the Games is expanding its scope not just in terms of quantity but quality.
According to Games Organising Committee chief executive officer Peter Stewart, some of the region and world’s best athletes will be on show in Port Moresby, and the world’s eyes will be on the country. To reinforce that line of thinking, last month at an Oceania National Olympic Committees meeting in Suva, Fiji, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach was in attendance and his presence alone highlights the significance of the region on the world sports stage.
The expectation is that the country must repeat its performance from the last time it hosted the Games in 1991 where PNG capped off a successful event in Port Moresby and Lae by finishing on top of the medal tally with 44 gold medals.
That was enough to edge perennial winners New Caledonia, who finished third with 29 gold medals, for a slice of history. To date this is the only time PNG has ever finished on top at a Pacific Games.
Second place finishes at the inaugural Games in Suva in 1963 and again in 1969 – the first time PNG hosted the Games – as well as in 1971 in Tahiti, have been our best performances.
Preparations for the event particularly in the construction of venues are nearing completion and despite what some might think the Games will start on July 4 and end 14 days later to what everyone hopes will be a memorable two-weeks packed with top quality action over the 28 sports and involving some 3000 athletes from the 22 countries.
Deputy Opposition leader Sam Basil has raised some concerns about the ability of organisers to ensure the event is all-inclusive and that as many Papua New Guineans can have the opportunity to share in what the GOC has termed a “once in a life time experience”.
Last month he asked whether the majority of the country’s seven million people would be able to catch a glimpse of the Games and witness the best sportsmen and women in the land strive to bring honour and national pride to the red, black and gold.
He said he was not concerned about venues because they had already passed the point when that issue would have been worth arguing about.
“It’s too late for that (venues construction), we’re (Opposition) not worried about whether the venues will be ready, what we want is for the organisers to ensure it is the best one we can put on,” Basil said.
The challenge has been laid down.