Oceania National Olympic Committees (ONOC) President Robin Mitchell warned newcomers Australia and New Zealand they will be “pushed all the way” by their rival nations during the 15th edition of the Pacific Games.
The Pacific Games Council (PGC) rubber-stamped a proposal to allow Australia and New Zealand to take part in rugby sevens, sailing, taekwondo and weightlifting at its General Assembly last year, paving the way for Oceania’s first truly Continental Games.
PGC President Vidhya Lakhan has previously claimed one of the main reasons for the delay in admitting the two countries was the fear they would dominate the competition and the Pacific Games would lose its tradition and culture.
“We’ve been pushing it for over 10 years to try and make it a Continental Games and also to help improve the standards,” Mitchell told insidethegames at the fourth edition of the PGC Sports Ministers meeting here.
“There’s quite a big difference in ability and so to help the Council to agree, it was [necessary] to get them first to identify the four sports where the island [countries] was a competitor for Australia and New Zealand.
“I think keeping the Pacific Games culture was important but now they can sort of slowly introduce Australia and New Zealand, [both of whom] don’t have the competition.
“There’s so much else going on but I think with this one I think still they’ll be pushed all the way.”
Australia and New Zealand are set to feature at the 2019 edition of the Pacific Games in Tonga, however, their decisions are likely to be influenced by their experiences in Port Moresby.
New Zealand’s football team have opted to stay in alternative accommodation to that offered in the Games Village as they claim it is not of the required living standard.
“It will be interesting to hear the feedback from both Australia and New Zealand at the end of these Games because obviously the expectations are different when you come to things like the Village, and transport and weather etc,” said Mitchell.
“The Pacific Games is much like the Commonwealth Games.
“It’s a very friendly Games and that may be the one that wins them over for future participation.”
The PGC Sports Ministers meeting involved the Ministers and delegates from all 24 participating countries in the 2015 Pacific Games.
Ministers agreed to support the success of the Pacific Games Council’s first measures to integrate Australian and New Zealand athletes into the Pacific Games, in the sports of weightlifting, sailing, rugby sevens and taekwondo, noting that these sports are where Pacific Island nations and territories perform strongly.
Among those in attendance were Papua New Guinea’s Sports Minister Justin Tkatchenko, as well as Lakhan and colleague Andrew Minogue, PGC executive director.
Mitchell stressed the importance of the meeting.
“Seven of the [ONOC] membership are not members of the [International] Olympic Committee so they miss out on the development side of funding, so it’s important that we’re here to inform the Ministers and also to get them to support sport generally," he said.
“So this is the fourth in the series and I think with each meeting there’s more engagement from the Governments and I think we’re very pleased with the outcome.”
July 2015: Australian women's rugby sevens star to carry flag at Pacific Games Opening Ceremony
July 2015: Pacific Games Council President hits back at New Zealand football team's criticism of Port Moresby 2015 Village
July 2014: Australia and New Zealand to take part in 2015 Pacific Games