22 Nov 2022

Solomon Islands begins countdown to Pacific Games with appeal to national pride

11:38 am on 22 November 2022
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Photo: Supplied

The Solomon Islands organisers of the 2023 Pacific Games marked the beginning of a one-year countdown with a noisy parade and a stirring dance performance at the weekend.

It also came with a vow that the Chinese-bankrolled sporting event will rejuvenate national pride and the economy.

The lack of Solomon Islands' sporting achievement "put us to shame because we have the people and the talent," said Jimmie Rodgers, chairman of the National Hosting Authority for the Games, in a speech to Saturday's countdown event.

"The 2023 Pacific Games is not just about two weeks of competition. It is not just about going for medals. It is not just about building facilities," he said. "It is about building this country. It is about starting the journey so our young people can have a future to look toward."

The proceedings began with a procession of trucks through Honiara carrying students waving flags from the two dozen Pacific countries that will compete in the 2023 Games. They marched through a sports field to recently constructed facilities at the country's national sports institute.

After the national anthem and speeches, young performers representing the Solomon Islands' diversity emerged through wafting smoke and danced with the Games' mascot Solo, a bright yellow giant turtle.

The Solomon Islands 2023 Pacific Games mascot Solo on tour around the country

The Solomon Islands 2023 Pacific Games mascot Solo on tour around the country Photo: Facebook

Parts of the capital Honiara are coated in a film of dust as Japan's Kitano Construction Corp. tries to level out and reseal kilometres of potholed road from the airport to the city and Chinese state companies race to finish the main stadium. Residents said the highway project appears to have suffered more setbacks than progress in recent months due to floods and poor drainage.

Some games venues such as a multi-sports facility built by Indonesia are already completed but the main stadium has suffered delays because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Economic boost

Delmah Nori, a former leader of the country's netball federation, said the Games could be an economic boost and develop the country's sporting prowess.

"It's good for our people especially for the tourism side, like it may bring people here to pay for some of the crafts our people are doing, because during the Covid most of them lost their income," she said.

"Also it helps to develop sports facilities, because we don't have that, we always have to find [another] way to train our athletes because we don't have facilities."

In a pre-recorded video, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said the main stadium would be completed by July next year, several months ahead of the two-week regional sporting competition.

He said the economic activity generated by preparations for the games - which include a new airport terminal, numerous sporting facilities and the new highway - have helped Solomon Islanders weather the pandemic and riots late last year.

Organisers' initial doubts about whether the country could be a successful host have been overcome because of assistance from countries such as China and Australia that are shouldering the cost, he said.

"We are on track to successfully host the Games. We are ready. We have seen rapid progress in the construction of many of the Games' venues," Sogavare said. "We have gone past the point of no return. There is no turning back from this point, only focus."

The Games have attracted criticism from some, including opposition leader Matthew Wale, who said even the country's main hospital in Honiara suffers shortages of basic but potentially life-saving medicines.

"Imagine the hospitals out in the islands and the clinics below them. And yet we're spending hundreds of millions of dollars on sporting facilities. The sense of perspective and priority is lopsided," he said.

Dika Toua

PNG's Dika Toua in action at the 2022 Pacific Mini Games in the Mariana Islands. Photo: NMPMG2022/Shivneel Narayan