COOK ISLANDS GAMES 2020
While most countries around the world have had to cancel major sporting events, concerts and gatherings due to the spread of Coronavirus, the Cook Islands have pulled off an event that no other country in the world has been able to do, at this scale and at this time.
Earlier today the tiny nation kicked off the first events of the 2020 Cook Islands Games - handball, tennis and lawnbowls with the official opening scheduled for tomorrow night, 6pm local time at the national stadium in Nikao.
The Games have been three months in the making and organised by the Cook Islands Sports and National Olympic Committee (CISNOC).
"The idea (for the games) was a collective idea through the CISNOC Executive which came by default from the Manea Games which are held every 4 years amongst the Southern Group Islands of Mangaia, Mitiaro, Mauke, Atiu and Aitutaki" said CISNOC Senior Vice President Romani Katoa.
"This year, Atiu were supposed to host the games and everyone was in the final preparations and looking forward to the games. Unfortunately, with Covid-19 affecting all travel and restrictions around travelling between the islands and within the country, it was decided by the Island Council, government and CISNOC to defer the games. CISNOC then considered hosting the games in Rarotonga, which is central to everyone and easier to get to. CISNOC wanted to invoke the Olympic values bringing people together during these trying times"
Being one of 18 Pacific countries that are currently Covid Free the committee saw it as a great opportunity to bring the Cook Islands people together to celebrate sports and appreciate what they have.
As CISNOC President, Hugh Graham says - the Cook Islands are "The only country in the world that is able to put on an event of this magnitude at this very point in time"
Athletes from Pukapuka/Nassau, Manihiki, Tongareva, Aitutaki, Atiu, Mitiaro, Mauke and Mangaia have come down to Rarotonga for the games and Mr Katoa says that many of the Rarotonga based athletes have gone out to support their outer islands. "It's been great to see and for people to recognise and acknowledge their other roots" he added.
There will be 24 different events ranging from Aquatics through to Weightlifting and will also include Traditional Games such as Rore (stilt races, combating & single stilts), Peipei Tiporo/Poroiti (juggling), Ko Akari (Coconut husking relay) and more.
He says it's the first time games like this have taken place in the Cook Islands. "There have been other formats in the past like the Constitution games, but nothing like this in the modern era with 24 sports" he said.
Medals and points will only be counted in the Open division. Masters and age groups will receive medals, but no points towards the overall point tally.
CISNOC also wanted to give the opportunity to all the islands to promote their respective islands by designing new island flags and anthems. The anthems were all recorded with the help of Ministry of Culture.
Mr Katoa who is of Pukapukan heritage designed the Pukapukan flag and gives this explanation on what the design represents.
"The two stars represent Wale and Ongalewu. The vaka design is unique to Pukapuka and shows the "Yiku ote Mango'' the Tail of the Shark, which represents our strong voyaging history from as far as Fiji and beyond to South America, Hawaii and NZ. This is reinforced in our language which has the ''Y'' like the Fijian ''C'', the "W" like the Hawaiian and NZ Maori, the ''L'' like the Tonga, Niue, Tokelau, Samoa. No other East Polynesian island has this. The paddles are unique to Pukapuka in their design and are crossed meaning ''UNITY'' of a village, tribe, a people. The paddles represent our everyday life in which we use the paddle to steer us in the right direction and pathway in life. The Red represents Ngake village (Holland), White represents Loto village (America), Blue represents Yato (Japan) and the Ocean which ''we'' all belong to."
The Pukapukan teams Flagraising Ceremony held last night in front of the Pukapuka Hostel was a historical one as it is the first time the island have put up a Flag pole in front of their hostel and also the first time they've had an island designed flag specifically for the National Games.
The Cook Islands Games 2020 officially opens tomorrow night (although a few events started today) and runs until the 17th of October.
The Ministry of Cultural Development Cook Islands will be live streaming the opening ceremony. Keep an eye on their page here
Check out the costume prep for the Opening ceremony in the video below -
Cover photo credit: Cook Islands Canoeing Association