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Q&A: Funding Still Our Biggest Challenge: Mar

A first-place finish for Team Fiji at Ju­ly’s Samoa Pacific Games is unlikely, a top official says, although that will be the goal. Fiji has recorded a fourth-place finish in
12 Jan 2019 10:33
Q&A: Funding Still Our Biggest Challenge: Mar
Fiji Association of Sports and National Olympic Committee (FASANOC) secretary general/chief executive officer Lorraine Mar. Photo: Sheldon Chanel

A first-place finish for Team Fiji at Ju­ly’s Samoa Pacific Games is unlikely, a top official says, although that will be the goal.

Fiji has recorded a fourth-place finish in the three Pacific Games since 2007, last winning it in 1963. This year’s Games will be held on July 7-20.

Lorraine Mar, Fiji Association of Sports and National Olympic Committee (FASANOC) secretary general/chief executive officer, be­lieves the nation’s athletes need more support before a serious challenge to dominate region­al sports can be mounted.

While FASANOC is working towards im­proving Fiji’s performance on the regional and global stage, Mar says financial limita­tions and the lack of top competition make it a difficult task.

“We appreciate that we can’t expect over­night results,” Mar said.

“I am quite confident that in 2023 we should be in a good position to be optimistic about an excellent performance at the Pacific Games to be hosted by the Solomon Islands.”

Team Fiji will be led by Patrick Bower, who was also Chef de Mission of the Fijian con­tingent to the Gold Coast, Australia Common­wealth Games last year.

In terms of funding, Mar expressed disap­pointment at some national federations for putting the onus of raising money on their athletes.

“It’s the federation’s responsibility to raise their share of the money and ensure the best athletes go to the Games,” she said

FASANOC’s head talks about Fiji’s chances at the upcoming Pacific Games, the number of athletes going, the venue change and the money involved in preparation and participa­tion:

SUN: What are our goals in Samoa?

Mar: It will be a challenge to achieve the number 1 position in Samoa this year, but op­timistically this is our hope.

Realistically, we would like to finish in the top 3 in medal rankings.

Fiji hasn’t done very well in the past Games. We have been 2nd, 3rd and 4th since topping the medal tally at the inaugural South Pacific Games in 1963.

In 1991, we were actually fifth.

We have also been 4th in the last three out­ings from 2007-2015.

In 2016, while putting our 2017-2021 Strategic Plan together, FASANOC decided that it was time to address this downward trend.

In addition to the Strategic Plan we also es­tablished a “Resurgence Agenda.”

We assessed our National Federations with a programme called the Readiness Assessment Tool (RAT).

The Tool is a series of questions which gaug­es where a National Federation stands at any given point in time in terms of its develop­ment.

The RAT identifies gaps or shortfalls and suggests solutions that will help move the Na­tional Federation forward.

As part of our planning process, all our Na­tional Federations were required to do the RAT.

The results of the RAT gave FASANOC an indication of how it could help the National Federations.

A common thread through them all was the need to build the capacity of those who man­aged and administered the National Federa­tions.

We believed that if FASANOC could bring about consistency in the delivery of sport, across all the National Federations, there would be improvement in the implementation of programmes delivered to athletes, which would ultimately lead to better performances.

This was a challenge with our limited finan­cial resources and lack of appropriate exper­tise.

Fortunately, the Oceania National Olympic Committees (ONOC), the continental arm of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which FASANOC is a member of, had already seen sports education as a real need within our region.

This was after conducting its own assess­ments and research of its 17 member National Olympic Committees.

ONOC subsequently established the Oce­ania Sports Education Programme (OSEP), in which they invested considerable funding and OSEP is now quite well-established within the region.

Fiji, I’m proud to say, is one of the leading NOCs within the region in terms of having fully adopted the programme and have been delivering it to our sports federations since 2016.

There are courses not only for sport execu­tives and administrators, but also for coaches and team officials.

The beauty of OSEP is that it is training developed by sports people specifically for sports people.

We do see a challenge with FASANOC hav­ing its own gap in regards to an effective mon­itoring and evaluation mechanism.

We can run all these courses but how do we monitor and evaluate the impact of these courses?

This is currently being addressed but I guess our performance in 2019 will tell a story!

As long as we have appropriate processes in place, including long term planning, we be­lieve that our investment into training will not go to waste.

SUN: Do you think we have the means to dominate the regional sporting space and what more is required to achieve that?

Mar: We have the means and certainly the sporting talent but we could do with a lot more support.

The top two in the region are generally New Caledonia and Tahiti.

Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Samoa fight for places behind the top two. When PNG hosted the Games in 2015, its Government invested millions, not only on infrastructure but also into preparing its team.

We need the financial support to produce the goods.

A classic example is Team Fiji’s 7s rugby gold medal win in Rio.

That team had what no other team or athlete in Fiji had – the best coach and the most re­sources.

Another reason they were able to maintain such a high competitive level was because they were exposed to regular international competition.

Although it might still have been a struggle for them compared to some of their opposi­tion, they did have the financial support that others did not.

We lack the financial resources, the physical infrastructure and our athletes don’t get regu­lar competition at the highest level.

For our athletes, if they are based in Fiji, it is very difficult for them to improve because they need to be out there getting high level competition and getting used to competing in venues that are international standard.

SUN: How much funding have you allocated for the team and what is the distribution criteria?

Mar: The majority of team preparation money is actually coming from Government, directly to the National Federations.

What used to happen is that FASANOC would put in the budgets to the Fiji National Sports Commission (FNSC) for team prepara­tion and for team participation and the fund­ing would be managed by FASANOC.

For 2019 there has been a change and the FNSC is channelling the team preparation funds directly to the National Federations.

When we submitted our budget to the FNSC, we had provided information on the number of medals at stake and what we thought was the potential of the sport to win medals.

From the FNSC’s point of view, funding is very much based on medal potential because the Government wants that return on invest­ment.

It makes it hard for smaller sports. The big­ger sports that have produced the results get the bigger share of the money.

The smaller sports are stuck in a never-end­ing cycle because how will they get to improve unless they get more funding? When the fund­ing becomes available is also a factor that af­fects performance.

Federations wouldn’t start preparing their teams just now, when the Games are six months out.

 

They would have – or should have – started their preparations two years or three year be­fore, in fact immediately after the last Games.

Unfortunately the preparation money is not available that far back.

We are not quite sure of the allocations to in­dividual National Federations.

FASANOC itself needs to be strategic about the limited funding it may have that could sup­plement the FNSC grants.

In terms of participation, we understand that $800,000 has been allocated for Team Fiji to Sa­moa.

Our team to Samoa is currently comprised of 512 athletes and officials, mainly because there are so many team sports on the programme.

To get them all to Samoa is going to be a mam­moth task.

We will be using a hotbedding format – so if you are competing in the first week, you go to Samoa in the first week and come back imme­diately after competition.

The next wave then takes the beds of those who have left.

There will be chartered flights that will carry the contingents to and from Samoa in waves, depending on competitions being held in the first or second week of the Games.

As you can imagine, this cost will be pretty substantial.

Traditionally Team Fiji’s participation costs have been funded by a three-way split between Government, National Federations and FASA­NOC.

 

The National Federations’ share is what is known as the team levy and it’s unfortunate that some of our National Federations put the onus of raising their one third share on the athletes.

For these particular Games, the team levy has been set at $1500 per person and while we accept that a portion of the levy could be passed on to the athlete, it really is the Na­tional Federations’ responsibility to raise that money.

Off the top of my head, it will cost around $2.5 million to send this team to Samoa.

The $800,000 by Government supplements this budget and we are grateful for the support.

Private sector funding is also critical. We have launched a national lottery on behalf of the National Federations to help them raise their share.

In conjunction with that, we are running what is called the Team Fiji Champions Pro­gramme, where the corporate community can pay $3000 and in return they receive 100 lottery books.

This is ideal for smaller businesses in partic­ular who may find it easier to contribute $3,000 than, say, $50,000.

The FASANOC lottery, is a perfect engage­ment for not only corporate citizens but also for the community at large because the ticket is only $2 each for a chance to win a Toyota Hi­lux.

Tickets are available from Fiji Olympic House.

SUN: What are your views on the change of venue for athletes in Samoa?

Mar: The accommodation was originally to be in hotels but this has changed to the Games Village being in a school complex.

Obviously, if the teams had been housed in hotels then they would have been a lot more comfortable.

In the past though, a school complex as the Games Village has been the norm.

Very few of the Pacific Games host countries have been able to house athletes in hotels.

Even in Fiji in 2003, the Games Village was a combination of USP and schools within the vicinity of the main sports venues.

Papua New Guinea built a new games village and athletes were able to stay in apartment-type accommodation but still shared bathing and toilet facilities.

The school venue in Samoa definitely may not be as comfortable but it’s our responsibil­ity, aside from what the organising commit­tee can best provide, to see what we can do to make our athletes more comfortable.

SUN: There is a lot of emphasis being put on Fiji’s team culture. Why do you think this is important?

Mar: Although past Team Fiji have had a team culture, it hasn’t been consistent through the years.

We think it’s important that there’s a culture that everyone in the team can relate to and be guided by and that is consistent for every Team Fiji.

The athletes and officials are not only going to compete.

They are travelling as ambassadors of their families, friends, supporters and their country.

Team culture also unites the team and hope­fully imbeds values that produces sportsman­ship and ultimately better citizens of the coun­try.

SUN: What has been some of FASANOC’s challenges in the lead up to the games?

Mar: The financial limitations are huge. An­other challenge – and partly perhaps FASA­NOC needs to take some responsibility over – is our National Federations need to plan for the longer term.

In many cases they don’t plan well enough in advance.

When we went through the process of seek­ing team official nominations last year, a num­ber of sports were not in a position to nomi­nate team officials within the required time frame.

International Olympic Committee research has shown that to prepare an athlete to com­pete at the Olympic Games, the athlete need to have done at least 10,000 hours of training, which is equivalent to 8 years of high level training.

Some people might say the Pacific Games is not the same level, but that’s not the point. You want to perform as well at the Pacific Games as you would at any other Games.

If Team Fiji is to do well then this is the kind of attitude that needs to be part of the team culture we want to promote and that needs to be consistent throughout an athlete’s pathway.

SUN: What are FASANOC’s expectations for national federations in terms of athlete qualification and following procedure?

Mar: Obviously we go to every Games with high expectations – as are the expectations of us.

We are very mindful that a lot of money is going into the team when they represent Fiji and the people who provide that money, expect a return on investment.

Government’s investment is substantial; in turn though, it is Fiji that we are not only rep­resenting but promoting when we are at the Games.

This is linked to why the team culture is so important.

How you behave as an ambassador of Fiji is reflective of the country as well.

In terms of qualification, FASANOC has a process where National Federations, as the experts on their sport, establish their selec­tion criteria and submit it to FASANOC for approval.

That criteria is vetted by a commission called the Selection Justification Commission.

Once it’s approved, then our expectation is that athletes are selected according to the cri­teria.

In an effort to lift the standard of our perfor­mances, FASANOC has also set minimum ge­neric criteria which we expect to be included.

However, the National Federations as the experts set whatever standards they feel is ap­propriate in relation to their sport.

Once approved, we feel that as long the se­lection criteria is followed, the best athletes should be selected.

Therefore the ability to pay a team levy, for example, is not taken into consideration.

In terms of ensuring the best athletes are se­lected, there is also a process for the Selection Justification Commission to vet the final team lists submitted by National Federations.

The Selection Justification Commission vets the team lists against the selection criteria.

There is also an appeal process.

Athletes who were in the training squad but did not make the final team have 48 hours to appeal their non-selection. Their appeals have to be made in writing and they have to show why they should have been selected over some­one else. We then convene an Appeals Tribu­nal and there’s a hearing before a decision is made.

We think that this is a fair process, which ensures that the best athletes are selected to represent Fiji.

SUN: What is your message to athletes and officials?

Mar: As a former athlete I know what it means to represent the country and the sacrifices that have to be made.

It’s a huge responsibility. I think it is impor­tant that athletes appreciate that they have this responsibility; and that when they put on that Team Fiji uniform, they are committed to doing their best as an athlete and an ambas­sador.

We are now six months out from the Games. We’re past the festive period and it’s time to buckle down to this critical stage of prepara­tion.

For the National Federations, we hope they will fully support not only their athletes but the team officials they nominated as leaders, in the same way that FASANOC will support its Headquarters Team.

On behalf of the Executive Board of FASA­NOC, I wish the Chef de Mission, Patrick Bow­er and his Headquarters Team, the National Federations, athletes and officials all the best.

I look forward to supporting them in Samoa.

At the end of the day it’s about “inspiring the people of Fiji through sports excel.

-Edited by Osea Bola

Feedback: leonec@fijisun.com.fj

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