Liam Morgan

Everywhere you went in the build-up to the glittering Pacific Games Opening Ceremony here, the mention of the visit of British Royal Prince Andrew was never far away.

On the streets of the Papua New Guinean capital, you simply couldn’t escape the fact that the Duke of York was coming to town to open the Games, just as he did back in 1991.

In fact, people were even walking up to me asking if I either knew him or if I had travelled with him due to my clearly-British appearance.

I wish.

A large banner, located opposite the central hub of the Games, greeting him and welcoming him to the country also dominated the landscape outside of the city’s main shopping centre.

His appearance at the Sir John Guise Stadium certainly represented a huge coup for Port Moresby 2015 and the Games organisers as a whole, and they made sure they put on an Opening Ceremony fit for royalty.

“I would like to congratulate everyone on a truly spectacular Opening Ceremony,” he said at the beginning of his address to the eager 15,000 people in attendance.

Prince Andrew couldn’t have been more spot on.

Without the glitz and pyrotechnics that other Opening Ceremonies have benefitted from - most recently at the European Games in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku, during which pop star Lady Gaga was reportedly paid $2 million (£1.3 million/€1.8 million) to perform - the production team, led by director Keith Tucker, ensured every single member of the vociferous crowd went home happy.

Packed full of traditional Papua New Guinean culture, music and dancing, the Ceremony provided a perfect platform on which to build a successful Continental Games.

While the sport may have already begun in earnest, it’s fair to say that an event such as Port Moresby 2015 doesn’t truly get going until the final firework has been sent flailing into the sky.

Duke of York Prince Andrew attended several events in the build-up to the Ceremony
Prince Andrew attended several events in Port Moresby before the Opening Ceremony of the Pacific Games ©Justin Tkatchenko/Facebook

The Organising Committee would have known the importance of sending out the right message as they bid to encapsulate and envelope the nation in a sporting sphere for the next fortnight.

Thankfully, they got it absolutely right as every single aspect of the way of life here in Papua New Guinea was depicted with an elegance and a beauty that left some of the crowd around me unable to control their emotions.

The effervescence of the capacity crowd was there for all to see - the smile on a child's face or the wiping of a tear from an elderly eye watching their proud country be exhibited to the world in dramatic style - and it made for a Ceremony that conveyed a large nod back to the old school.

It was effortlessly simplistic - from the way those performing in the “Sing-Sing” section, a traditional celebration dance, managed to entice the crowd for the best part of an hour to the way the Papua New Guinean flag stood as a proud symbol on the middle of the stage before the athletes were introduced.

But yet it still conveyed that razzmatazz and wow factor that make nights like these unforgettable, with beaming lights and fireworks and everything else you expect to see present in abundance.

Following a pre-show which included a practice countdown for the later arrival of “Team PNG” at the Sir John Guise Stadium, led by MC Steven Dawanincura, as well as the appearance of Pacifici Games mascot Tura, a three-year-old Kokomo, the stage was set for a riveting opening dedicated to the Hiri trade.

The second scene, entitled “Call to Nation,” saw tribal members emerge from the four main towers surrounding the stage - The Momase Tower, the Southern Tower, The New Guinea Island Tower and The Highlands Tower - to fire up the crowd and their official entrance into the Ceremony was just the prelude for things to come.

The “Sing-Sing” section neatly preceded the unveiling of the Papua New Guinea flag, which served as an appetising starter to the main course of the athletes’ parade.

Usually at these type of spectacles, the athletes, who are the focal point of any multi-sport Games anywhere in the world, journey around the track before either taking a seat in the stand or exiting stage left to allow for the Ceremony to resume.

But Port Moresby 2015 wanted to be different.

Athletes stayed in the middle of the arena in a break from the normal procedure at Opening Ceremonies
Athletes who marched in the Opening Ceremony of Port Moresby 2015 stayed in the middle of the arena in a break from the normal procedure ©Justin Tkatchenko/Facebook

Instead of doing things the conventional way, they opted to keep the athletes in the central ring of the venue to allow them to watch the remainder of proceedings from close-up.

It made for a superb image of roughly 3,000 athletes and team members all gazing at the stage in unison, semingly as engrossed in the displays of various elements of Papua New Guinean culture as the lucky 15,000 who had a seat for the big night.

A particular highlight of the parade, aside from some of the striking outfits and unusual dances, was the appearance of Tuvalu, whose journey here has been plagued with difficulties.

Originally, they were due to depart their capital Funafuti last weekend, but cyclones in the region forced the postponement of the boat that was meant to carry the 113-strong delegation, quite some effort from a nation whose population barely breaches 10,000, across to Suva, Fiji.

The obvious question here would be why they didn’t get a direct flight from their island to Papua New Guinea - they do exist after all but the sheer size of their team meant a three-day voyage by boat was the only feasible option.

Following another cancellation to their boat on Monday (June 29), they were finally headed in the right direction the next day, although they were unable to leave until 5pm local time.

This meant they were cutting it fine to make it in time for the Ceremony but despite not arriving until two hours before the 7pm start, they managed to grace the event with their presence to the delight of the audience inside the arena.

It is a story like this that really highlights the power of the Pacific Games as an entity. Their triumph over adversity was met with a rapturous response as their name was read out over the tannoy, and rightly so.

For it was an incredible achievement just to be there but to make it on time and full of vigour, despite being asked to wear their parade attire on the plane over from Nadi, which is located on the western side of Fiji's main island of Viti Levu, personifies the Pacific Games spirit perfectly.

Every nation received a warm reception, with Vanuatu even unveiling a banner that read “Thank you Papua New Guinea” in local language Tok Pisin, but special ovations went to Australia and New Zealand, who are competing at the Games for the first time.

Their appearance at these Games will only enhance the coverage worldwide as they are the two major sporting powerhouses in the region and while some may have foreseen an adverse reaction to their participation, the crowd were full of admiration, clearly showing that they are happy that Australia and New Zealand are part of the event.

It is fair to say it has been a long time coming.

The stadium erupted as Team PNG made their long-awaited arrival at the Opening Ceremony
The Sir John Guise Stadium erupted as Team PNG made their long-awaited arrival at the Opening Ceremony ©Port Moresby 2015

As was forecast, the Stadium noise levels then escalated several notches when “Team PNG” entered the fray amid a cacophony of delirium and excitement.

The lights grew brighter, the music louder and it was safe to say at that point, the party was truly underway.

A buzz reverberated around the recently-renovated venue, sending shivers down the spine as their athletes made their long-awaited arrival on the Ceremony stage, clearly lapping up the reception they were being given.

The second half of the event whisked by, incorporating yet more varying cultures within the Pacific nation as well as traditional music.

But this shouldn't be construed as a negative - after all they say time flies when you are having fun.

Once the majority of the Ceremonial content had dissipated, it was the turn of the dignitaries to take the stage, including Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and Justin Tkatchenko, the nation’s Sports Minister.

The arrival of the dignitaries was greeted with a brass band rendition in front of the main grandstand
The arrival of dignitaries at Port Moresby 2015 was greeted with a brass band playing in front of the main stand ©Port Moresby 2015

But it was Prince Andrew’s appearance at the podium that brought a hushed silence over the Stadium that hadn’t been seen for the previous 120-odd minutes as he announced he was here to deliver a message from The Queen.

His absence from the christening of Princess Charlotte long forgotten, the Duke of York grasped the attention of the audience as he read from the sheet of paper in front of him.

“I wish all the teams the best of luck in competition during these Games,” part of The Queen’s message read.

While luck may play a factor in terms of the sport that will take place here over the next 14 days, no fortune was needed for Port Moresby 2015 to deliver a spectacular Ceremony that will live long in the memory.

One that was fit for a Prince, a King or even a Queen.