9 Jun 2021

Pacific Olympic and Paralympic athletes stoked with new funding

6:32 am on 9 June 2021

Pacific Olympic and Paralympic athletes will be able to train and compete in qualification events leading up to Tokyo 2021 with funding approved from the Australian and the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC).

A general view shows the National Stadium, main venue for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, in Tokyo on May 9, 2021. (Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

Photo: AFP

Due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, many Pacific athletes face significant challenges in completing final training programs and critical qualifying events.

Through the Australian Government's PacificAus Sports programme, 11 Pacific nations - an estimated 150 Olympic athletes from the Pacific Island nations of Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu are looking to secure a spot on their respective Olympic Games' teams.

Papua New Guinea track and field athlete Rellie Kaputin is attempting to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics under coach Phil Newton.

At the announcement she shared what inspired her to want to become a professional athlete.

"During my childhood, I've been inspired by a lot of people, but the one person that inspired me the most was my uncle.

"He represented PNG in one of the Commonwealth Games and watching him growing up gave me the drive to hopefully be like him one day and represent my country," she said.

Papua New Guinea's Rellie Kaputin competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Papua New Guinea's Rellie Kaputin competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Photo: AFP

Tonga's taekwondo athlete Pita Taufatofua explained that the support of programme is a game changer for Pacific athletes.

"To know there is some backing, some funding from the Australian government, the Olympic Committee and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade means we get accommodation, food, coaching and that's what we need," Taufatofua said.

An additional 20 Paralympic athletes will represent Vanuatu, Fiji, Solomon Islands, PNG, Kiribati, Samoa and Tonga at the Tokyo Paralympic Games.

From Fiji, Inosi Bulimariewa is self-taught in javelin, having used YouTube to learn about the sport and is now heading off to the Paralympics.

"When I got my prosthetic leg, I decided to learn how to run and from there I started to think of what athletic sport I could participate in and enjoy at the same time.

"I liked javelin and went with it, but there was no coach available for me, so I got a lot of my training ideas from YouTube," he said.

The PacificAus Sports Programme, they were able to organise a coach for Bulimariewa, which he said was a positive change for him professionally.

"It helped with my training because before, I didn't know if I was doing the right technique or had anyone tell me what I can improve on.

"Having a coach means I'm able to have someone correct my performance and I can find out what I need to improve on as I train," he shared.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 15, 2020 the logo of the Japanese Olympic Committee is displayed at an entrance of the Japan Olympic Museum in Tokyo.

Photo: AFP

Oceania Paralympic President Paul Bird thanked the Australian Government at the announcement this week, for its support of Paralympians across the region on their journey to Tokyo.

"This funding is vital to assist our Pacific Island Paralympians to reach their goals and achieve their best in Tokyo.

Like all athletes, they have been impacted by the pandemic and this support will ensure they are able to train and prepare for the Games."

The AOC, working with the respective Pacific Olympic committees and their representative body, the Oceania National Olympic Committees, is helping co-ordinate efforts to identify and support athlete's training and qualification plans.

AOC CEO Matt Carroll spoke about the opportunity to unite the Pacific through sport and the significance of developing the partnership.

"The Olympic and Paralympic Games creates opportunity and inspiration for nations across the world.

"This partnership is not just about backing high performance programs across the Pacific.

"It also sends a message of resilience to communities throughout the region," Carroll said.