It’s important for New Zealanders to be humble and respectful of traditions at the upcoming Pacific Games in Samoa, the New Zealand Olympic Committee says.
Four years after making their Pacific Games debut alongside Australia in Port Moresby, New Zealand will be increasing its presence at this year’s event, competing in seven sports in Apia in July.
Four years ago, New Zealand athletes only contended weightlifting and taekwondo.
Team New Zealand Chef de Mission Kristy Hill said they were excited to be invited to compete once again alongside their Pacific Island neighbours.
“I’m mindful of us coming into these games and ensuring that this is a connection between New Zealand and Australia with Pacific nations,” she said.
“My approach is to be humble and ensure that we fit in to these games. We acknowledge our hosts and their traditions and we acknowledge the people of the Pacific… so it’s really important to make those connections and ensure that we see ourselves as part of the Pacific in these games.”
The New Zealand delegation was involved in two controversies at the 2015 games in Papua New Guinea.
Weightlifter Douglas Sekone-Fraser withdrew from the team after making a reference to cannibals and PNG on Instagram prior to the opening ceremony.
Then, the men’s under 23 football team was disqualified from the Olympic qualifying competition, which was being run alongside the games, for fielding an ineligible player.
Hill was not involved with the 2015 team but said New Zealand had learnt a lot from their first games experience.
“To actually understand what our role is in these games and to prepare the athletes for that, for any games really,” she said.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s the Pacific Games or the Olympic Games: there’s things around social media that we need to enforce with our athletes.
“There’s preparing them for the heat and the conditions and those types of things so for us, we use these games, any games, we take the learnings and are more prepared than we were the previous time.”
Hill, a former New Zealand women’s football international who competed at two Olympic Games, is already familiar with most of the Pacific Games venues after attending the Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa four years ago.
“They’re pretty top-notch actually and when we went to go visit, pretty much every single venue was under renovation in preparation for these games so I’ve got no doubt that those are going to be top quality venues.”
The Methodist Church of Samoa will host all games athletes at their Faleula compound.
Hill was in Apia six weeks ago to meet with games organisers and to get a first-hand look at the facilities, and said the New Zealand delegation was looking forward to experiencing Samoan culture.
“It’s a traditional village so it will be different to what we’re used to but I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to provide to young athletes and young New Zealanders to actually experience Samoan culture and Samoan hospitality and that is certainly what we’re going to be getting during this time,” she said.
“I’m actually quite excited by the fact that we are hosted in a compound like this. We have spoken to the organisers and… they’ll have to bring in extra toilets and things like that but other than that they’ve done a lot of preparation and worked with the Methodist Church to ensure that we can fit something like 4000 athletes and support staff that will be staying in this compound.”
New Zealand will send a team of about 60 athletes to Samoa to compete in archery, athletics, beach volleyball, football, sailing, taekwondo and weightlifting.