REMARKS: SG Puna keynote to ONOC Sport and SDGs Strategic Partners Forum

Opening Keynote

Pacific Islands Forum SG Henry Puna

Oceania Sport and SDGs Strategic Partners Forum 2023

ONOC General Assembly in Brisbane, Australia.

Wednesday 19th April 2023

I begin today by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we gather today, and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and future. I extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, here today.

Excellencies, representatives of Oceania National Olympic Committees (ONOC) Member countries, representatives of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Olympic Solidarity (IOS), fellow Pacific agencies, CROP and other International Organizations, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen –Kia Orana, Bula Vinaka, and Warm Pacific greetings to you all.

It’s a fantastic honour to be joining this Forum of strategic partners today, as you continue the focus on 2032, and scale up the already considerable linkages between Oceania Sport, and the Sustainable Development Goals.

I am also really pleased to note, your integration of the Pacific 2050 strategic direction set by our leaders, into this work. It is a key part of how Pacific leaders are setting our development agenda right now, and we know the impact level, where we meet our people where they are, must involve all things sports.

The Olympic movement, represented for us through the Oceania National Olympic Committee, is a key Forum civil society partner in that regard. The impact of sports on healthy communities and nations, has been universally accepted for many years now. But we are at a tipping point, if you will, especially with the clock ticking to 2030 on the Sustainable Development Goals.

This is why it is so very vital, and historic, that the 2032 Games are coming to the Pacific—specifically to this great Southern land. Australia, you’ve done such a great job with the first two, and you’re about to join that prestigious line-up of a handful of countries who’ve hosted the games not just once, or twice, but three times. Congratulations!

While many of us here were not around when Melbourne hosted the 1956 Games, a few more of us would have been amongst those watching, competing, or supporting competitors at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

Perhaps some here will recall that magic global Olympic first, when a 16-year-old weightlifter from Papua New Guinea made Olympic history. Appearing at her first Olympics—Dika Toua became the first female Olympian to lift weights in this new category for women.

I am pleased to note she went on to set personal and global records, as one of a handful of Olympians who have competed at five Games. I know she has set her sights on becoming the first ever athlete, to compete in six Olympic Games, at Paris 2024.

Dika, you have the hearts of the Pacific with you, your coach Paul Coffa, and all our Pacific athletes who will be taking our islands to the world’s premiere sporting event.

We wish you all the absolute best. I want to take this moment to extend a warm welcome and appreciation to all former and current athletes and their families, who have sacrificed so much to excel and bring so much joy and pride to the Pacific from the Olympics.

When we cheer, we cheer for all our nations and our athletes, because we are one Pacific family. Thank you all so much!

By the way, at the PIFS Secretariat, we have a very special and elite Blue Pacific Team. They are quite talented across all sports and have a very unique lead as the friendliest and loudest team in the local friendlies or mixed tournaments. Yes, they are champions for a cause, not a medal. They don’t qualify to participate in the local competitive sports…indeed they hardly win at all. But let me tell you this, they are great ambassadors and champions for ending violence against women and girls.

This is an initiative that the Forum team observes every week by wearing black on Thursdays. Perhaps we can do the same this week – turn up in black tomorrow, and stand up against violence in the region, where we have, sadly, the world’s highest levels of gender- based violence.

The Pacific Island Forum

It is due to this record, that our Pacific Island Forum is strengthening commitments to gender equality and social inclusion, in a review of the Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration. Created in 2012 at the Forum I hosted in Rarotonga, the Declaration is going to be injected with action and momentum, to help ensure there are more Dika Toua’s coming through the ranks of women in sport.

We want to learn from your achievements and challenges, for Women in Sports Leadership, in participation, and in access

The lessons we are learning from our own regional and the global progress reports of the SDGs, may be sobering in the news that we are not on track to meet the goals. Not as countries. Not as a region. Not as the world.

But we will not stop in our determination to bring about change. Change that meets the goals of the SDGs, on the way to achieving the Pacific 2050 Strategy goals.

The Forum and other international organisations across the Pacific, are keen to follow up the endorsement of the 2050 Strategy in 2022, with a clear Implementation Plan. A key feature of our outreach at this time, is ensuring that all partners to the Pacific, both established and new, accept that this is a development strategy for the Pacific, set by and for the region, and with our ownership on every page. We seek partnerships for the Strategy, in the same way that partnerships are an essential part of progressing the SDGs. And so, we are learning, and learning fast, from the SDG experience and challenges, even as we ensure we make the most of opportunities to scale up partnerships, as they become available. But let us be truly clear—the Forum nations are not waiting on partners, to start on the work required. Yes, we need resources, but we are resource owners

Our Forum Leaders established the Forum Fisheries Agency, which led to the Parties to the Nauru Agreement and the ground- breaking Vessel Day Scheme, ensuring stronger economic returns from tuna fished from our Pacific Exclusive economic zones. The same happened with another key resource, our people. The Forum establishment of the University of the South Pacific in Suva, ushered in the regional and collective commitment to tertiary education. USP is one of only two regional universities in the world.

Our Oceans. Our People.

Our future, in terms of the Secretariat, the organization that I lead, will continue to see Pacific nations strengthening regionalism initiatives across priority sectors of development, helping to secure social and economic aspirations for Pacific peoples.

Our Leaders continuously reaffirm climate change as the single greatest threat to our region. The ground-breaking 2021 Pacific Islands Forum Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones further reinforces the Blue Pacific’s call to world leaders, to urgently commit to decisive climate action, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

With the current science telling us we will overshoot this target and are on track to reach 3.2 degrees in our lifetimes, we strongly urge our global family to do all that is necessary, to stop that upwards trend and return us to a 1.5 cap on global warming, while it is still possible.

Our progress across the goals is not on track. There is an urgent need for sustained financial and technical support, to improve statistical data and capacity.

We know based on the current activities; we won’t hit the 2030 SDGs until 2065 at the earliest. We know based on current data that the Pacific will only achieve 20% of SDG targets by 2030.

As a collective, we recognise the benefits of our combined voice, when calling for partners to support and align their development assistance.

We also call for greater support from partners, in aligning programmes in the region, to accelerate SDG progress on data, transboundary challenges, and basic services.

Development Partners

I want to especially recognise the presence today of those multilateral development financing institutions, bilateral partners and donors, UN Agencies and CROP, Regional Sports Federations, Athletes, civil society organisations, and Government partners.

Your being here is recognition of the impacts and benefits gained at all levels of development, when there is effective regional coordination of sport, physical activity, and physical education.

From a regional perspective, strategic engagements in policy, advocacy and research have helped to position sport as a regional policy priority.

Our Forum Economic Ministers have endorsed a Pacific Sports Physical Education and Physical Activity Action Plan.

This helped set up a regional support mechanism, for technical assistance to Forum Island Countries. It also aims to develop and integrate data collection, analyses, policy development and implementation, in partnership with USP, ONOC and member governments.

I am pleased to see the connection this holds for our 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent. The thematic pillar on People Centred Development aligns with the 2030 Global Sustainable Development agenda.

These connections help to ensure we are working in harmony and leveraging a significant legacy across the Pacific and Oceania, for sport as an enabler of Sustainable Development.

2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent

I want to circle back to the 2050 Strategy, as the formal and official blueprint, capturing the long-term vision and aspirations of our Pacific Island Forum Leaders.

The 2050 Strategy is a recognition that working together as one Blue Pacific Continent, is a powerful expression of our strength. The Strategy is a commitment to harness that collective resilience. It leverages our shared political strength, human and natural resources in new and innovative ways, to transform our present and our future.

People are at the centre of the 2050 Strategy! And in the Pacific, there is an undeniable value chain from Sport. Development aspirations can be realised through increased economic remittances, labour mobility, tourism, health, and the potential to accelerate positive change in our communities.

From the most powerful to the most vulnerable, I wish to especially champion our youth. They are our future. They are already leading the way. We must recognise their contribution, not only as elite players and participants in sports, but as experts who can bring light, solutions and innovation to the journey.

Let us create pathways and opportunities to develop to the fullest, their capabilities in fields such as administration, coaching, medicine, physiotherapy, and sports psychology.

Friends, the 2050 Strategy is our collective response to current and emerging challenges, and most importantly, sustainably managing the great opportunities that are before us.

It is time for those nations and partners who have been on this global journey to urgently review, scale up and align their development assistance to realities, not rhetoric.

It is time for greater support from partners to the region, to all our nations, to ensure they work hard at implementing, but also accelerating progress across all the goals, especially those on data, transboundary challenges, and basic service.


With these remarks, I want to end with an emphasis familiar to those who know team sports. Just as the winning teams are those who achieve perfect flow in competition, our large ocean, small island nations of the Blue Pacific know that strong and committed regional cooperation is key, to development that is truly sustainable.

As I have mentioned previously, beyond the 2030 global agenda and vision, we are also focussed on our very own 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.

It may be 27 years away for the future leaders, already leaning into their roles today—and I know some of you are here in this room — but the progress we make in the next seven years to the SDGs beyond 2030, will define how much progress is possible after that date.

The climate code red may leave many anxious, but there is still a small window for urgent action and ambition now. Now, not later. And this is what makes our gathering this week so important.

You are here to imagine, innovate, and map that course for a future, where Sport continues to enable and expand the policy options and directions, facing all our leaders right now. It’s a time requiring decisions based on justice, courage, and our common humanity.

This session today has given us all a platform, to demonstrate to those nations who need reminding, that Health and wellbeing through the Olympic movement, provides some lessons for the world across some of the key crises, it is facing right now.

Health and well-being through the Olympic movement can restore the conviction, and the connection, that will restore values of unity and peace for a thriving planet and thriving people.

The Olympic shows us all it is possible, to celebrate diversity and unity as one global family. If sport can cut through politics. So, too, can our climate emergency.

Health and wellbeing through the Olympic movement is already showcasing the SDG solutions, and what is possible when we walk the talk on the 17 goals.

Health and wellbeing through Olympic unity gives humanity a literal, fighting chance. It can address social and economic inequalities. It can ensure the green transition for the Olympic events and help support the urgency of also transitioning to a net zero future, and 1.5 restoration point for our overheating planet.

For such a mission, I am here to tell you, without a doubt, that you have not just the world of sport, but all nations of our One Blue Pacific—and indeed this One Blue Planet—cheering you on.

Because unlike the Olympics, this is one race where we all lose—or we all win, together.

Meitaki Ma’ata, Vinaka vakalevu.–ENDS



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