By Robert Keith-Reid

SUVA, Fiji (Islands Business, August 2003) - All of the past 12 South Pacific Games had their distinguishing hallmarks. The first Games at Suva in 1963 were the smallest; nearly 800 athletes. The 12th Games from June 28 to July 12, also at Suva at the same but since rather more developed stadium, were far larger; 4000 athletes from 22 of Oceania's countries and many more officials, helpers and spectators.

At the opening event, held in typical depressing grey and chilly Suva drizzle, organising committee chair, Dr Robin Mitchell explained to the assembled throng that the purpose was to "deliver to the peoples of the Pacific the most harmonious, athlete-focused and culturally enhancing South Pacific Games, reflecting the Pacific at its best." His committee managed to do that.

But the real distinguishing feature of the 12th Games was a loss of innocence. Athletes were warned that for the first time they were liable to drug tests. Fifty of them were actually subjected to them at a cost of A$480 (US$198) a time. Entrance to the main venues was made, also for the first time, through metal detector gateways. The detectors picked up a lot of innocently small pocket knives and a couple of machetes, one concealed in an umbrella of the type used routinely throughout Fiji for cutting sugar cane and as a general purpose garden tool.

Perhaps the carriers thought they might need to slaughter a referee or two. Terrorism insurance (another Games landmark) cost F$10,000 (US$5000). And the venues of the 32 sports the Games were composed of were saturated with the brands of the commercial sponsors snared to contribute to the cost of around F$30 million (US$15 million).

Main sponsorships cost F$750,000 (US$375,000) but the cost of these were offset by generous tax breaks allowed by the government. Mitchell said the mounting size and cost of the Games had become a worry for even the wealthier and larger competing countries. There was a need to limit future Games to about 3000 athletes by the elimination of sports requiring large teams but not played widely through the region, he suggested.

And the mounting cost of air travel in the Pacific where the cost of operating long, thin routes as airlines label them is prohibitively high, is now a serious obstacle for micro-states wanting to send just a dozen representatives to an event they couldn't ever hope to cater for. The Samoans who will host the 2007 Games left for home boasting that their effort would shadow the Suva committee's achievement. The Samoan government is talking of a 100-million tala (US$32.6 million) budget for it.

There were some days of sun for the 12th Games. Despite the wet, never a deluge but mostly a persistent mist of water, the 12th Games went mostly as intended. There were some moans about food, a few transport hitches and the normal backstage furor over matters of protocol.

Others, given the magnitude of the organisation attempted by the volunteer managers and their several thousand helpers, it was a wonder there weren't many more hitches. Smaller teams were hurt by the F$80 (US$40) daily cost of being put up and fed at the university and school buildings used as accommodation. Some participants left a week early after their events to escape the cost. The region's sports giants (New Caledonia, Fiji, French Polynesia (Tahiti) and Papua New Guinea) appeared with musters of 250 to more than 400 competitors.

For the midgets (Niue, Norfolk Islands, Tuvalu and Nauru), teams of fewer than 20 carried themselves no less proudly. The official opening by Fiji's President, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, was followed by a show of culture at the Pacific's best, a succession of moving, majestic and at times awesome demonstrations of traditional choreography, with dancers representative of the region's Indian and Chinese cultures intermingling with Fijian, Samoan, Solomon Islanders, Gilbertese and Samoan dance groups on a scale long to be remembered.

There was just one Pacific Time hitch; a programme timed to end by 8pm was still jumping at 11pm, so much so that in their cage the pigeons awaiting release as a time-honoured symbol of peace and harmony went to sleep on the job. Suva's wet was never near quelling it. The symbolic Games flame burning above the stadium in a brazier didn't flicker for a moment.

August 12, 2003

Islands Business: http://www.pacificislands.cc/pm82003/index.php


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