A year from now yesterday, the CNMI will have the opening ceremonies for the 2022 Northern Marianas Pacific Mini Games at the Oleai Sports Complex.
To help mark the occasion, the Pacific Mini Games 2022 Organizing Committee held a launch ceremony where they officially started the timer for 365 days until the opening day of the event on June 17, 2021.
The occasion was attended by local government officials led by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, sports officials led by Northern Marianas Sports Association president Jerry Tan, and Pacific Mini Games 2022 Organizing Committee chair Marco Peter and its CEO Vicente “Ben” Babauta. Along with the unveiling of the countdown clock, yesterday’s launch also was the official unveiling of the Mini Games logo designed by Kadi Y. Camacho.
Torres said he and his administration are excited to officially kick off the countdown for next year’s Mini Games and reminisced on the roller-coaster ride the CNMI had to go through to just keep its hosting duties for the Mini Games.
“I remember when we won the bid in 2015 among other island-nations to host these Mini Games. I was there when former governor Eloy S. Inos made this commitment to the Pacific Games Council and to our brothers and sisters of the Pacific. Back then, the economy was looking up. Tourism was gaining strength again, and the future looked bright,” he said.
Then multiple disasters struck, lamented Torres.
“Since then, we have all experienced Super Typhoon Yutu which damaged many of our sports venues. And we continue to deal with the global COVID-19 pandemic. Disaster after disaster hurt our economy. But we are a resilient people, and we all agreed that we must continue the work of hosting this Games for our children who want to be athletes one day. We do this for our athletes who have trained their whole lives for this. And we do this for our Marianas to showcase our culture with the Pacific,” he said.
The launch ceremony also had Pacific Games Council president Vidhya Lakhan delivering pre-recorded message to the people of the CNMI. In his message, Lakhan commended the CNMI for sticking to the hosting of the Mini Games despite crisis after crises that started with Typhoon Soudelor in 2015, Super Typhoon Yutu in 2018, and of course the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
He said initially, the CNMI wanted to return the hosting duties of the quadrennial event to the council for rebidding, but after some urging from the council the Torres administration agreed to hold a scaled-down version of the Mini Games.
“[We] successfully lobbied the governor that the CNMI can still host a reduced Mini Games. An agreement was made to reduce the number of sports in the [Mini] Games from 12 to six and the number of days were also reduced,” said Lakhan.
Eventually, the CNMI went from returning its hosting duties to asking to add three more events to the Mini Games and in early this year the council agreed to add tennis, weightlifting, and vaa to the Games’ program. In 2020, COVID-19 then forced the CNMI and the council to postpone the Mini Games to 2022.
Aside from the additional three, the original sports in the Mini Games calendar are athletics, badminton, baseball, beach volleyball, triathlon, and golf
For Babauta, the CNMI’s hosting of the 2022 Mini Games is a story of resiliency and overcoming adversity. “Rising up to the challenge. That’s what the NMI is all about. That’s our motto!” he told an estimated 500 people who attended the launch ceremony.
He went on to say as of June 16, 2020, the CNMI is expecting 1,300 athletes and over 400 officials from 19 countries taking part in the Pacific Mini Games next year.
As the CEO of the organizing committee, he also put in a plug for sponsorship for next year’s Mini Games. “We welcome companies, organizations, and individuals interested in sponsoring to contact us. If not, we will contact you!” he said, which elicited laughs from the audience.
Peter already is anticipating that next year’s Mini Games will be the biggest sporting event of 2022 and that fact is not lost in him.
“It’s indeed a privilege and a tremendous responsibility for us to host this Games. It hasn’t been an easy path. Since the Northern Marianas won the bid to host the Mini Games in 2015, we had to face many hurdles, namely Typhoon Soudelor, Typhoon Mangkhut, Super Typhoon Yutu, and of course COVID-19. These all pushed back [our hosting] of the Games from 2021 to now 2022,” he said in echoing Lakhan and Torres’ message.
The former congressman said instead of wallowing on the multiple tragedies, the CNMI fortunately has been handed the opportunity to lift itself up with its hosting of the Mini Games a year from now.
“This series of events have moored people down, but athletics is giving us a boost that’s much needed. Athletics is allowing us to prove to ourselves that we can think and cooperate our way out of these challenging times. And we can do both of these with the strength and support of our brothers and sisters from islands across the Pacific region. We are bouncing back and I’m proud of all of us as we host this amazing event with our world-renowned Marianas hospitality,” he said.
The launch ceremony started with a parade of flags that represented the participating countries in the Pacific Mini Games. It also included a performance by various island dance groups that was signaled to start by the blowing of conch shells. It was brilliantly emceed by Rep. Angel Demapan (R-Saipan), who even joked that he’ll be trying out for the CNMI weightlifting team. Bishop Ryan Jimenez led the invocation.