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‘Our people should be proud of our athletes’: Team Cook Islands falls short of 25-medal target at Pacific Games

Saturday 2 December 2023 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Pacific Games 2023, Sports


‘Our people should be proud of our athletes’: Team Cook Islands falls short of 25-medal target at Pacific Games
Showcasing Cook Islands culture at the opening of the Pacific Games events in Honiara, Solomon Islands. 23120303

Unique displays of Cook Islands cultural practices were showcased at the 2023 Pacific Games, which concluded with the closing ceremony in Honiara, Solomon Islands, last night.

From the first day of the events until the final showdown, Team Cook Islands’ chef de mission, Mark Short, and his team never failed to bring their drums to each event, providing a boost for the athletes.

Short said the vision was to incorporate a bit of culture into the athletes to ensure they understood the importance of the people and country they were representing.

“We wanted them to feel a connection with their heritage and culture so they would appreciate who they were playing for.”

Short said that in the end, they were able to unite Team Cook Islands as one family.

“We used the drums in the morning at 6.30am as an alarm to wake everyone up for prayers and devotion, which was powerful.”

Short said various codes and federations had turns running devotion then they would go off to training or game time. 

“Using culture as a foundation has been a blessing for Team Cook Islands because it brings people together. We had to find a balance between using the drums only to remind people to come to devotion and more importantly to support teams in the semis or finals.”

Short said they also performed some cultural shows for their volunteers to say thank you and they returned the compliment by performing for them which strengthened their bond and relationship with the athlete’s village management team and volunteers.

He said they also collected funds from the sporting federations to donate to the athlete’s village when they leave this weekend. 

Short said his focus had been to keep the momentum of the team running smoothly such as transport that includes dropping off teams to the airport and managing arrivals.

“I have also been encouraging our athletes to encourage and lift our teams that did not do so well.”

As the Pacific Games concluded last night, Short, reflecting on Team Cook Islands’ journey, acknowledged the challenges faced.

“Our journey was extremely challenging at the start, with different teams arriving at different times,” Short said.

“Then, we had the challenge of trying to find alternatives for teams stranded in Fiji due to the cyclone that put a hold on flights. These were eventually rerouted through Brisbane to Honiara.”

Prime Minister Mark Brown with the boxing team in Honiara. 23120310

Most of the athletes and teams have departed Honiara and the rest will be departing this weekend.

Short said: “I’m happy with the outcomes so far, especially as we had to navigate around the delayed flights caused by the cyclone in Fiji and the changing itineraries to get teams to the games.”

“There is always room for improvement, and I have spoken to all managers to provide me with their thoughts in writing on how they think future games can be improved.”

Short expressed his satisfaction with the Pacific Games results, considering the circumstances faced by the athletes.

Team Cook Islands amassed 5 gold, 3 silver and 9 bronze medals (as of 5pm yesterday). The 3x3 women’s basketball and mixed touch teams were playing in the bronze medal playoffs when this edition went to print last night.

At the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, Cook Islands won 18 medals, including 5 gold, 5 silver, and 8 bronze medals. The target this year was 25 medals.

Short said: “We don’t have a large population from which to field the numerous sporting commitments on offer at these games. Often, our athletes play a number of sports such as netball, soccer and touch rugby compared to other countries that specialise in one code.”

“To come away from the games with medals after competing against larger countries with more people and more resources is a testament to the ability that we have to remain competitive against an unlevel playing field.

“Our people should be proud of our athletes.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mark Brown was in Honiara on the second week of the Games to support Team Cook Islands before heading to Dubai for the COP28 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

Brown told Cook Islands News that Team Cook Islands is one of the best teams at this Pacific Games, demonstrating excellent team spirit and achieving impressive results.

Brown gave credit to the chef de mission and management.

“It’s been really good games, I think. Solomon Islands put on a terrific event.”