Sports and National Olympic Committee secretary-general Owen Lewis said: “I think it’s wrong what has happened to these athletes.”
Swimmers Bede Aitu, Kirsten Fisher-Marsters, Malcolm Richardson and Noah Vilisoni-Heather were all banned from competing in Samoa because none had lived in the Cooks for five years, as the rules require.
“Each country submits their athletes’ names to the Pacific Games organisers. We gave ours and Papua New Guinea challenged the eligibility of four of our athletes,” Lewis said. “We had no alternative but to withdraw them from competition.”
The swimming contest in Vaitele, Samoa, is also a qualifier for the 2020 Japan Olympics.
Lewis said all four athletes were Olympic scholarship holders – meaning they should be allowed to compete in the qualifiers. “You can’t deny athletes a chance to qualify, it’s not fair on those athletes.”
They were challenging the ban, with the support of FINA, the International Swimming Assocation. “I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this.”