Games council turns down passport plea

Wednesday 12 August 2009 | Published in Sports

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Thursday 6: Rules are rules, argues PGC, and the time to object was September 2008

A group of athletes will miss out on competing for the Cook Islands at the Pacific Mini Games next month because they don’t hold NZ passports.

Foreign affairs secretary Mike Mitchell says he was disappointed after a last ditch appeal to the Pacific Games Council (PGC) in Noumea failed to allow athletes who don’t hold a NZ passport to compete.

All athletes in Team Cook Islands must have a New Zealand passport.

A number of the athletes who will be ruled out from competing even hold permanent residency (PR).

Now government’s strategy of awarding PR to athletes to make them eligible to represent the country at sporting events has been rendered obsolete.

Mitchell was in Noumea, New Caledonia, last week and met with PGC executive director Andrew Minogue to plead for flexibility on the games charter eligibility criteria. Minogue had already responded to queries from CISNOC president Sir Geoffrey Henry in an email on July 22 saying the council would enforce the games charter as it stood at September 2008.

Mitchell was asked to approach the PGC to request that exceptions be made to the NZ passport rule.

He says Minogue told him that the Cooks were aware of the ‘applicable passport’ from its inception in September 2008 but did not contest it.

Apparently Norfolk Island raised its own objection to their Australian ‘applicable passport’ but could not achieve a two-third majority vote at the meeting to add NZ passports as an alternative.

“In other words, according to Andrew Minogue, the Cook Islands had their chance for the 2009 games,” says Mitchell in his report to CISNOC on the Minogue meeting.

Mitchell pleaded the Cook Islands case, even though he was told any objections to the criteria are far too late.

“I endeavoured to impress upon him the relevant factors for many of our athletes – marriage to and children of Cook Islanders, many years residence, permanent residence granted, and so on,” reported Mitchell.

He even pointed out that the Cooks is not a territory of NZ – something that the charter has recorded, and is instead its own country.

The response he received was that the request is too late for the games and that a position must be clear for the next meeting on the issue.

It is even too late to have the issue raised at a meeting being held during the games in Rarotonga on charter issues for the next Pacific Games.

“Andrew Minogue said the philosophy favoured was ‘games for the islanders who live in the islands’. I believe this, while admirable, ignores the reality of the Cook Islands position in particular – and the references to expatriates are also misleading.

“The test should be, where do you live, where have you made your home?”

“For the 2009 games the Cook Islands is in a bad position.”

Mitchell says he remains ready and willing to assist CISNOC legally.

“However, the outlook is bleak for the 2009 mini games for any participants holding other than NZ passports,” he says- Helen Greig