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Tuilaepa: Both Samoas should clean up athletics

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi has accused local athletics administrators of corruption and favoritism, and suggested that the same thing is happening in American Samoa athletics.


The matter came up when the prime minister in his weekly radio program was asked to clarify the current status of the ongoing conflict involving the executives of the national athletics association, the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (MESC) and the Samoa Association of Sports & National Olympic Committee (SASNOC), as to which board members should represent athletics in the Oceania Athletics Association (OAA) and the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF).


According to the prime minister, the matter is clear cut and everything is under control.


He explained that former athletics association president Lalau Willie Fong is not in the picture anymore as he is currently working and living in Niue. He said that the association had been in a sad state for a long time and that the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture has stepped in to oversee the running and development of athletics in the country.


He also clarified that MESC senior official Luatua Seumanutafa Semi Epati is now the president of the athletics association, and the current executive committee has been officially recognized by the OAA and IAAF.


Tuilaepa explained that there are no differences between the current athletics administration and SASNOC as the latter are not involved directly in the running of sports events in the country. That is, their function is to represent Samoa’s sporting interests internationally and athletics is represented in SASNOC itself.


The prime minister said that athletics in Samoa has been plagued with problems for a very long time because athletes and former athletes with sports administration experience are sitting idly and allowing people who are there for their own personal agendas, to lead the various sporting associations.


He said that the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture is trying to rectify this problem by putting people with sports experience and those who are genuine about the developing of sports in the country in these leadership positions. He added that once this is achieved, they should broaden their support base by including sports administrators of the various mainline churches in the country such as CCCS, Methodist and the Catholic Church youth athletics program.


With these additional administrators involved in the running of sports, up and coming athletes in these youth groups who would have never been exposed to the national selectors, would get a better chance of being discovered and selected to represent Samoa in international competitions.


“This should have been done a long time ago,” said Tuilaepa. “Instead these corrupt administrators have been taking their friends and relatives on ‘all-expenses-paid’ trips to represent Samoa in international athletics meets and it shows in the results. When have we seen our country being successful in international athletics?”


The prime minister also described what he witnessed during the South Pacific Games hosted by Samoa back in 1983.


“I will never forget the 1,500 meters race I watched,” Tuilaepa recalled. “Our representative was off like a shot as soon as the race started and he had a head start of about 400 meters. At the end of the first round, he was still in front and so as the second round. But in the third round, he was nowhere to be seen on the track. He was lying down beside the track because he couldn’t finish the race! It was like a big joke!”


Tuilaepa then went on to describe an international athletics meet he witnessed last year in Korea.


“I was surprised to hear that there was a Samoan athlete competing in the 100-meter race,” he said. “So there I was looking out for this Samoan athlete expecting to see a trim well-muscled sprinter. “Instead, I saw an athlete who was about 5 feet tall and six feet wide!” he exclaimed. “I also found out that the athlete was actually from America Samoa. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and for the life of me, couldn’t figure out how such a large person who must have weighed 400 pounds, could be selected for the 100-meter race.


“And the result was to be expected,” he recalled. “When the starter’s gun went off, all the other sprinters were way out in front while the American Samoa rep was waddling as quick as she could with her stomach sticking out first.


“In fact, all the other runners crossed the finishing line, caught their breath and congratulated each other and the American Samoa runner had still not crossed the finishing line!”


The prime minister said that he intends to let Governor Lolo Moliga know about what happened that day and to find out who the athlete was because it was a disgrace.


“It was a disgrace not only for American Samoa but also for Samoa,” the prime minister declared. “If the territory’s name had been American Manu’a & Tutuila, it would have been alright. But since it is American Samoa, we have been unfairly tainted by this poor athletic performance.”