Countdown begins for the Cook Islands Games

Over one fifth of the population is set to take part in the rebooted Cook Islands Games, which gets underway in less than two weeks.

The multi-sport event was last held in 2015 but has been revived as a way to bolster sporting competition in the country in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

President of the Cook Islands Sports and National Olympic Committee (CISNOC), Hugh Graham, said Rarotonga was buzzing ahead of the 3 October start date.

"Of the 15 islands that make up the Cook Islands we have 11 islands that will be participating, including the capital Rarotonga.

"We have about 3,500 athletes that will be participating in 24 sport...we're expecting about 300 technical officials and about 400 volunteers to help out so it is a huge Games, a huge undertaking in such a short short time to organise."

The Cook Islands Games have been brought out of hibernation after CISNOC agreed to postpone the Manea Games in Atiu until 2023.

"They weren't able to raise the necessary funds required to host the five other islands that make up the southern Cook Islands," Graham explained.

"We agreed with this and we agreed to postpone it for another three years and Atiu is still to host the Manea Games in 2023."

"During this time our Minister of Sport, the Honourable Mac Mokoroa, consulted with us and asked us, 'please we need some activity going on', so this is why we've bought forward the Cook Island Games as well."

With the cost of travel to Rarotonga prohibitive to a number of the outer islands, organisers have come up with a novel way to ensure as much of the country is represented on the sporting fields as possible.

"We made the emphasis on islanders based here on Rarotonga," Graham said.

"For example, if you are an Aitutakian living on Rarotonga you would represent Aitutaki and if you were an archer and living here."

But CISNOC stressed that everyone is welcome to attend.

"We understood the constraints in terms of funding and that's why we didn't want to put the emphasis on the islands to bring over their representatives.

"Having said that we know Atiu, Mauke, Aitutaki and Mangaia are definitely sending over athletes to participate with their brothers and sisters that live here on the main island, Rarotonga."

The Cook Islands is yet to record a case of coronavirus but with international borders still shut for the forseeable future, the event is being pitched as an event for local athletes of all abilities.

"Sport has brought families closer together - that pride, that heritage of their own islands," Graham explained.

"All you have to do is drive around the island and you can see a lot of activity happening. They're out there - the young ones, the old ones that want to participate as well...they're doing the physical activity in preparation for the Games."

CISNOC says it will be staging the Games "on a shoestring budget".

The Oceania National Olympic Committee has come to the party with a funding grant. With Covid-19 dominating the political agenda, organisers did not request any government funding, although the use of venues and power have been provided at no cost.

So, who's going to reign supreme?

"Mangaia will be the winner," declared CISNOC Secretary General Owen Lewis without any hint of hesitation.

"Although Hughie (Graham, overheard laughing in the background) might think Mauke will win...some of us already know."

Find out for sure from 3 October.