The Marshall Islands women's volleyball team defeated Guam in a thrilling five-set match at the9th Micronesian Games. Photo: 9th Micronesian Games Media

MAJURO, 08 NOVEMBER 2021 (MARSHALL ISLANDS JOURNAL) — The every-four-year Micronesian Games have been postponed due to ongoing uncertainty about Covid and restricted travel in the region. The large sub-regional sports event was scheduled for the July-August period in 2022.

The Marshall Islands Cabinet, based on recommendations from the National Olympic Committee (NOC) and the Games Organising Committee, has approved pushing the sports competition to 2023. The delay reflects the ongoing Covid pandemic and a broad consensus among sports authorities around Micronesia, said officials with the NOC.

A related issue for games organisers is that while several big-ticket sports infrastructure projects for the games are progressing well, Covid border controls have so far prevented the arrival of essential specialized workers needed to complete a new Olympic-level track and field. The pandemic has delayed the availability of specialized contractors and shipping of necessary construction materials, supplies and equipment that must still be obtained and could further delay completion of the facilities, said organizing committee officials.

The decision by the Pacific Games Council to delay the 2023 Pacific Games in Solomon Islands from mid-2023 until the November-December period in 2023 for pandemic-related reasons opened an opportunity for the Marshall Islands to reschedule the Micronesian Games to the July 2023.

“In conversations with the majority of the participating Micronesian Games Associations in Japan during the Olympic Games and in subsequent phone and virtual conversations, the support has been unanimously positive for this schedule delay,” said NOC Secretary General Terry Sasser. Between 1,500 and 2,000 athletes, coaches and officials are expected for the games from Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Yap, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae.

This is the first Micronesian Games to be hosted by the Marshall Islands since the games were initiated in 1969. After this initial competition, there was a hiatus for two decades before the games re-launched on a four-year cycle beginning in 1990. Palau, Guam, the Northern Marianas and the Federated States of Micronesia have all hosted the games multiple occasions.

The Marshall Islands government is injecting over $10 million to improve existing and build new sports facilities to host the sub-regional tournament that includes over a dozen sports.

“This is not a decision we have taken lightly,” said Micronesian Games Organising Committee Co-Chair and Minister of Education, Sport and Training Kitlang Kabua. “There are two overriding concerns that have caused us to make this decision at this time.”

She said that global, regional and national Covid-prevention travel restrictions and quarantine requirements continue for public safety. These will have an impact on participation and performance of athletes, and present many logistical, financial and administrative challenges. A three-week quarantine requirement to enter Marshall Islands has already prohibited the travel of professional experts to run Olympic Solidarity and Oceania Sport Education Program courses to increase capacity of local officials, referees, administrators and volunteers for the various sports and committees that will have oversight of the Games, Kabua said.

On top of these issues, the safety of communities in the Marshall Islands, athletes and their entourages “remains our number one priority,” said Kabua. “The risk to anyone’s health and wellness given the ongoing global Covid‐19 pandemic must be mitigated.”

International federation experts who must travel to Marshall Islands — which remains Covid-free — from the United States, Australia, Asia and Europe, which all have high rates of Covid‐19, would have to quarantine in Hawaii and in Marshall Islands, causing many to be unable to participate. Sasser said the participation of international federation officials is essential for successfully running the multiple sports competitions during the Micronesian Games.

Micronesian Games Organising Committee Co-Chair and Nitijela Member Tony Muller recognised the “unwavering support of Marshall Islands national government, which has allocated the funds in fiscal year 2022 to complete the development of all facilities. We are grateful for their commitment to the professional and safe delivery of these Games, said Muller… PACNEWS

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