29 Aug 2013

Sport: Countries ready to go ahead of Pacific Mini Games

4:57 pm on 29 August 2013

Close to 800 athletes will descend on Wallis and Futuna over the coming days ahead of the start of the Pacific Mini Games.

20 countries and territories will compete across eight different sports, with the Northern Marianas and Tokelau opting not to participate.

As Vinnie Wylie found out, for most of the countries taking part, the next fortnight is a chance to expose the next wave of young talent.

The Cook Islands is relishing a low-key approach to this year's competition, having hosted the last Mini Games four years ago. On that occasion, more than 200 competitors lined up to represent but this time the Cook Islands is sending just eight athletes to Wallis and Futuna. The Chef de Mission Robert Graham says they still expect to do well.

"ROBERT GRAHAM: The Cook Islands flag, in Wallis, will be raised a few times on the results that we've got at the moment and our athletes and based on what other results we are collecting within the region. When we send teams overseas it's not just for the sake of going overseas, but we do jump online and check other countries with their athletes that are going to the Games - where they are, where it places us, as well - so we have a fair idea of where we will be looking at in particular codes or particular sports."

Fiji finished atop the medal tally at the last Mini Games in 2009. Its Chef de Mission, Alini Rabetu Sovu, says the event provides a good opportunity to expose up and coming athletes to major competition. But after finishing at the top, she says they're determined to continue setting the pace.

ALINI RABETU SOVU: For the last Pacific Mini Games the host hosted 12 sports and we topped the medal tally with 32 golds, 26 silvers and 20 bronze. We're participating [in] all the 8 sports [and] we're just hoping to do just as well as what we did in Cook Islands.

Papua New Guinea accounts for almost one-fifth of the athletes registered for the Games. Chef de Mission Richard Kassman says some of those are attending in a development capacity, with an eye to the 2015 Pacific Games in Port Moresby, but he says the country's star athletes, such as weightlifter Steven Kari and sprinter Toea Wisil, will also be in attendance.

RICHARD KASSMAN: Our weightlifting and track we are sending a strong team for those because we want them to continue their competition, so those were the key ones. Sailing we've done well in and Va'a it's a new sport for us. I know in Va'a some of the bigger nations aren't coming in that sport but this will give us an opportunity to blood some of our athletes and hopefully get on the podium there.

Having failed in their bid to host the 2009 event, this will be the first time Wallis and Futuna have hosted a Mini or Pacific Games. The Executive Director of the Pacific Mini Games in Wallis and Futuna, Eddy Filipponi, says the investment in new facilities will benefit the territory for years to come.

EDDY FILIPPONI: The fact that the local sport movement can now evolve with high performance sport facilities can only be beneficial for the entire population. This is a stepping stone to organise in the coming years all the sports or cultural events - Wallis and Futuna can prove its capacity to receive these kinds of events and it certainly opens the door to future collaboration with the Islands in the area.

The opening ceremony is on Monday at the Kafika Stadium, with competition to get underway on Tuesday.