Now it can be told.
Mini Games Organizing Committee chair Marco Peter said CNMI athletes would’ve been banned from taking part in the Pacific Games and the Mini Games if the Commonwealth went through with its initial plan to back out from hosting the quadrennial event following the destruction caused by Super Typhoon Yutu in 2018.
“In 2014 we were awarded the Games but it was put on hold because of what happened in 2015 which was Soudelor. [Northern Marianas Sports Association] just set it aside and everyone just forgot about the Games. [We were just] lollygaging around the gym area and not remembering we had a Games to host in 2021,” he said.
The former lawmaker said then 2018 came around and the islands were hit by a double whammy when Super Typhoon Yutu slammed the Commonwealth even as the CNMI hasn’t totally recovered from Soudelor.
“…then the Pacific Games Council contacted us and said ‘hey, you haven’t paid your arrears the past three years and you guys are hosting the Games in 2021. [We know] you just had a major typhoon but we still need you to host the Games and we don’t care what you guys gonna do but you guys will host the Games,’” said Peter.
However, at that time the CNMI wasn’t in any shape or form ready to host the Mini Games what with the devastation and months of typhoon recovery it was facing.
“…Gov. [Ralph DLG] Torres kind of decided that we’re not going to host the Games. Either way we had to pay arrears that was over $200,000 and not being able to participate to host the Games and we would’ve been banned for the next 10 years and our athletes won’t be allowed to participate in the Games,” he said.
Good thing though that the Pacific Games Council was very understanding and gave the CNMI several chances to reconsider. Torres and NMSA eventually found a middle ground with the Pacific Games Council and agreed to host a reduced Mini Games schedule at a fraction of the usual cost (from $8 million to $3 million).
“So in 2019, council president Vidya Lakhan and CEO Andrew Minogue flew to Saipan for three days and assessed the area. So if you look at the sports we have right now most of them are outdoors. So they went around and saw the damage that occurred at the [Gilbert C. Ada Gymnasium] and the [Francisco “Tan’Ko” M. Palacios] baseball field and decided that most of the sports that would be offered would have to be outdoors.”
Originally, only six sports were supposed to be played in the 11th staging of the Mini Games—athletics, baseball, badminton, beach volleyball, golf, and triathlon. Eventually though, the CNMI increased its financial commitment to $4 million that allowed the addition of tennis, weightlifting, and va’a in the Mini Games events calendar.
Peter said it’s a credit to the Torres administration and the hardworking staff of the Mini Games Organizing Committee that they’re able to prepare for the Mini Games in just 1 1/2 years when it usually takes seven years to organize the event.
“I want to thank the Torres administration for their great support. Without them we wouldn’t have been able to expedite permits and [we’d still be] running papers through red tape. Up until today we’re still going through that… There’s a lot of excitement in the CNMI, but a lot of people still don’t know what’s going on. We’re counting on the support of the community and lastly I would like to thank all the sponsors for supporting us.”