Tiny Tokelau makes a big mark at Mini Games

Tokelau is one of the smallest delegations at this month's Pacific Mini Games, with only three athletes, but is hopeful this is just the start of an increased presence at future events.

The New Zealand territory, which has a local population of just 1500, only sent one athlete to the 2015 Pacific Games in Papua New Guinea and had initially planned to send nobody to the Mini Games in Vanuatu.

But Ilai Elekana Manu, who has won eight Oceania medals representing Tokelau in wrestling, said he had a chance encounter with Pacific Games Council CEO Andrew Minogue at an ONOC (Oceania National Olympic Committees) meeting earlier this year, which motivated him to try and put together a team.

"We talked about how Tokelau hadn't entered any athletes into the Games so I was keen to rectify that and open it up for people to want to enter," he reflected.

"Because I had been given the blessing before from Tokelau to represent in wrestling (which was not a part of the Mini Games programme) I saw it as an opportunity that I could represent in another sport and they'd be cool with it.

"I let them know I was planning to bring a team to the Pacific (Mini) Games and they were fine with that. Because I would be responsible in terms of the funding and everything I just let the guys (I approached) know we're doing this on our back - with no fundraising.

"If you want to come you're self-funded - I don't want any of this going back to the islands so we're basically self-funded. We came here on our own backs and we were able to perform on the stage representing our country and just so proud to do it."

Ilai Elekana Manu and his cousin Peter Elekana competed in judo during the first week of competition, with Ilai winning a bronze medal in the men's under 73kg division.

Peter was almost unable to compete at all after his connecting flight was delayed, leaving him stranded in Brisbane overnight and missing the opening ceremony.

"He jumped on the plane needing to lose two kilos to make weigh-in," recalled Ilai.

"Basically had to jump off the plane here in Vanuatu and go to the weigh-in so on our drive there we stripped off his clothes, put on some trash-bags, covered him up, insulated with the boxing gloves/boxing headgear, (did) pad-work in the car and our drive we were going as slow as he could towards the weigh-in.

"Basically he lost the two kilos in the car. He basically couldn't walk to the scales, jumped on the scales: 66.1kg fluctuating back and forth, took off his watch and his undies and bang 66kg on the spot."

Peter Elekana and Ereisky Lafaele are also representing Tokelau in boxing in Port Vila but Ilai Elekana Manu said the long-term goal is much bigger.

"I've been told by the Secretary General for ONOC that if we came with five sports that we could form a National Olympic Committee recognised by ONOC, or an affiliated federation and that would allow us to compete at Games like the Asian Games.

"In Turkmenistan we just missed out because...we didn't have anything formalised so by coming here and competing in these two sports (at the Mini Games) we'd like to add that together with wrestling, which is also recognised by its International Federation, volleyball and table tennis - so those five sports there would hopefully be enough to get us affiliated to ONOC."

Ilai Elekana Manu said the main reason for attending the Mini Games was to try and inspire others to represent Tokelau going forward.

The New Zealand based athlete said the response they have received has been overwhelming.

"All the love from everyone around the world - so much pride in seeing the Tokelauan flag being waved and just knowing that we can compete at this level and we can actually win some silverware," he said.

"So hopefully it's just inspiring future generations to want to push for more, to want to represent their country and not to be afraid to let people know that Tokelau is here.

"We are a country - a lot of people don't know we exist, I found that out here. Just to show them who we are as a people."



Photo: Peter Carroll/Van 2017 Media Ilai Elekana Manu represented Tokelau at the Pacific Mini Games Opening Ceremony in Port Vila.