2021 Pacific Mini Games Oversight Committee chair Jerry Tan is rallying the CNMI to use the quadrennial event to jumpstart a new vision for Commonwealth sports.
“Let us take this opportunity to make the CNMI a sports powerhouse in our region and at the same time a healthy Commonwealth,” said Tan, who was selected to head the committee that will oversee the good governance, accountability, and transparency of the Organizing Committee for the 2021 Pacific Mini Games, which will be held on Saipan five years from now.
Tan acknowledged that this new vision will not be achieved overnight, but he pointed out four obvious factors that will help the CNMI move toward its goal, namely: building new sports facilities; having year-round maintenance of facilities; getting high level technical training from professional coaches; and appointing a secretary of sports to cabinet position.
The first key is investing in facilities.
“This is the right time to build new facilities and improve them as we will be hosting the Mini Games. The facilities should meet standards and must last long so that our athletes can continue using them even after the Games are done. Building durable and high-standard facilities will also save us money in the long run,” Tan said.
Once the facilities are in place, the second step is to have the government provide sufficient funds for the regular maintenance of these sports venues.
At present, Northern Marianas Sports Association is the designated caretaker of the main sports hub in the CNMI—the Oleai Sports Complex—and the group has been getting funding for its operation from the government in the last two or three years. However, NMSA is also seeking grants from federal agencies for repair works at the facilities, especially after Typhoon Soudelor hit the island in August last year.
While the first two factors are focusing on sports facilities, Tan said the third is about the CNMI athletes.
“Again, the role of the government here is crucial. The government should be supportive in providing technical training to our athletes by helping federations hire professional coaches or those who are experts in their respective sports,” the committee chair said.
Right now, CNMI athletes are trained mostly by former athletes and teachers and though there are qualified local coaches, these mentors still need upgrade to keep up with their counterparts in the regions (Micronesian and Pacific). Some sports federation, like soccer and tennis, are lucky enough to attend training sessions under pro coaches.
Tan recognized that funding will be the main issue in finding and training professional coaches and building facilities, but the CNMI may take a cue from New Zealand and Australia to survive this challenge.
New Zealand and Australia sports are represented in their respective governments as they either have a ministry or agency solely focusing on sports and getting adequate funding from the government. The Land Down Under has the Australian Sports Commission, which distribute funds and provides strategic guidance and leadership for all sporting activities in the country. The Kiwis, on the other hand, has Sports NZ, which is under the Minister for Sport and Recreation and has the same function as its counterpart in Australia.
“Australia and New Zealand institutionalized their sports with their officials named to cabinet positions and they push and lobby to get sufficient funding from the government and the private sector,” Tan said.
The CNMI used to have the Division of Sports and Recreation under the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs before the former was dissolved in 2013 and NMSA took over the operation of the Oleai Sports Complex. A DSR head was appointed by the government, while NMSA’s executive director (Tony Rogolifoi) was approved by the group’s board. Rogolifoi and his staff are mostly focused on the maintenance of the complex, while other NMSA officials/members have days jobs and volunteer in their respective federations.
“I think it’s high time that the CNMI have a sports minister or a cabinet member who will look into the overall development of sports in the Commonwealth. The designated person will work with the government and the private sector to ensure that all athletes, coaches, and officials will get the help and resources they need to become more competitive in their respective sports. He or she will also look into the availability of facilities to train our elite athletes and provide venue to those who want to stay active by playing sports,” Tan said.
When the four mentioned factors are considered, Tan believes CNMI athletes and officials will be more competent and a lot of people, especially the youth, will be involved in sports.
“When more people come to learn a specific sport and train, we will have a big pool of athletes, who one day will give honor to the CNMI. If we have a lot of people getting involved in sports and becoming active, we are looking at having a healthier community,” said Tan, who is alarmed at the number of lives lost and higher medical cost due to sedentary lifestyle.
“We have to look at the bigger picture and reevaluate what will happen after the Games are done. Let us not just focus on hosting a good Mini Games. Let’s have a new vision for CNMI sports and do this for health and pride,” the committee chair ended.