Clint Flood, Pacific Mini Games 2017 CEO, in exclusive interview for Vila Times, talks about his experience organising big international sports events, who will benefit from Van2017 and why the Government of Vanuatu needs to have a legacy plan for the Games.
‘Hardest challenge always is finding and training staff’
Hi Clint. I know you have been organising international sports events for decades now. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your experience?
I started in 1985. I got an opportunity to work with the organizing committee of the 1988 Calgary Olympics in Canada. I was working for an engineering company, and someone asked me to go over and work on the Olympics. I really enjoyed it, and from there my career in events was launched. So I went and worked on six Commonwealth Games, World Championships, I worked on the Olympics in Sydney and London, and in Brisbane doing Goodwill Games, and eventually the cycle came around when in 2012 I was invited to come down to Papua New Guinea to help manage the 2015 Pacific Games. We had very successful Games in PNG, and that led to me coming here. So it has been a long time managing events and working in different countries.
Even though we have a model how to do Games, every country has been different, because it is a different culture, different way of doing things, so I have learned a lot in Vanuatu about what works and what doesn’t work. Particularly, the hardest challenge always on any event in the world is finding and training staff. So here we made a commitment to make sure as many of our staff as possible are local, but they haven’t had experience doing this before, so it has been a lot of training, a lot of mentoring.
But to me there is a big personal reward doing a lot of mentoring, because it’s seeing how we pass on this knowledge. Good example is Papua New Guinea. We left a whole bunch of people there that are now capable to manage large scale events, and they are doing it now. They don’t have to rely on foreign people like myself to come in, it’s self-relying now. And I hope that’s the same case in Vanuatu, and somebody in our organisation should be the next CEO during the next Games, because there is a lot of talent here. I personally get a lot joy out of seeing how our staff coming up to the challenges of managing multiple deadlines, and multiple daily challenges. It’s not about running events, it’s about management, finishing things on time, being disciplined, finishing things off, which is something you have to do whether you making an event or running a successful business.
‘There is no common vision of how these Games should benefit Vanuatu as a whole’
So you have spent three years in PNG. What were the main differences in organising the event there compared to Vanuatu?
Certainly in PNG it was much bigger event – 28 sports, 4000 athletes. But here, for the place like Vanuatu, these are big games. I hate calling it Mini Games, because this is a big event here.
But I think major difference was that the Government of PNG, three and half years prior to the event understood what was required to host the Games. They dedicated resources to do it. PNG was also fortunate they were coming off a big high, with oil prices and minerals prices high. There was a complete plan with the Games in PNG, and it was fairly well integrated with the Organizing Committee. There was clarity 3 years out in terms of what the Organizing committee did and paid for, versus what the Government paid for and delivered.
Here in Vanuatu, while the government is very supportive, it has been challenging because it seems like there is no common vision of how these Games should benefit Vanuatu as a whole. Whereas in Papua New Guinea, the government and particularly the Prime Minister and his cabinet had the Games in sight as a precursor to APEC, which PNG is hosting next year, to show Papua New Guinea is not a third world country, it is moving forward. They wanted to demonstrate their capabilities above beyond oil and minerals and that kind of stuff.
Here I think it has been more of a challenge defining: what are these Games, why are we having these Games? What’s the long term legacy and benefits? There has been a better vision in PNG.
So right now the Government does not have a plan on how to use the Games for the benefit of the country? They basically have no idea what to do after the Pacific Games in Vanuatu, don’t they?
This is something I have been talking a lot about to various people. The Games will provide legacy, but only if you work at what that legacy is. It doesn’t just automatically happen.
The government of China is building fantastic venues there. But they are not built just for the Pacific Games, which will all be over on December 15. A plan is needed on how they are going to be marketed, how they are going to be maintained, how do they become more than Sports facilities – but multipurpose assets for the people of Vanuatu.
I am a big believer in sport tourism. I have met with the Department of Trade and Vanuatu Tourism Association, saying: people are not just going to come here for sports tourism. People already come here because it is a great place, and we could have a vibrant sports tourism market year round here, but you have to do the marketing.
There are legacies that I think Van2017 is helping to start. The Champions program – which has gone to all the islands to speak to young kids in schools about nutrition, clean water, about taking care of the environment. What that has to do with the Games? We use this as a catalyst because we know there are problems across Pacific in terms of diet and problems with environment. If you can use the Games to change some of that, and you change a thousand kids lives, that is a good investment.
But the government has to do it, not us. Van2017 is gone in three months after the Games, our door is closed. So it is up to the government to say how they are going to maximize the legacy. There are some plans on the way. I personally would like to see them further advanced. But I know that recently the Prime Minister has dictated to members of the cabinet to make sure there is a plan in place.
And I think what has been problematic is just that the Government hasn’t been able to pull all the pieces together. But the time is racing by. I would love to think that two weeks after the Games on January 1st, 2018, it’s a New Year, a big celebration takes place, and Korman has a live concert or something else to celebrate the New Year.
There has to be a plan after that of how to use it, how to maintain it, how to tie it up with the Convention Centre, how to tie it up to the sport tourism, and so on. There needs to be a plan from bottom up to the top of how to do it.
And that is the only way for country to get the true benefits of what will happen in the Games.
Yes, there is some economic spin off for sure. We spent a lot of money in the economy, but it is the money we are getting from the government in the first place. The long term benefit would be how do we use the momentum we created for the Games to do other things.
And I think that was the difference in PNG. They looked at that and, political or not, the government had an idea of why they wanted to do the Games, what legacy values they are going to have, and if some of them were used for political gain, that’s a fair thing to do.
‘Mini Games is an opportunity for athletes to shine within the Pacific’
And what is the main role and purpose of the Pacific Mini Games in the region?
The Pacific Mini Games is used as a stepping stone between each big Pacific Games. A lot of these countries are looking at it as an opportunity to shine within the Pacific. It is much more difficult for the athletes of the Pacific to get the attention they deserve at Commonwealth Games or Olympics, just because the sports are not as developed here as in other places – although Fiji sure turned heads in Rio with the Gold Medal, and other athletes are now making themselves heard on the world stage.
So the Pacific Mini Games provide the place to shine in the Pacific. The Mini Games are a good opportunity for many sports to start looking at their teams for the larger Pacific Games. It’s a long time between major competition taking place every four years, so in sports like athletics, football etc at least it gives them competition period in between the Games. Because four years is a big period in athlete’s life. If they miss big event, it may mean they will not get to go to the major Games. It might be their only time to shine.
And it’s not a different competition in the Mini Games than in Pacific Games, just less sports. But I do think they see it as an opportunity to come because you are a bigger fish in a smaller pond at the Pacific Mini Games compared to the bigger Pacific Games.
We are getting all 24 countries at this point, there are entries of 2300, which is huge, it has never been as big before for the Pacific Mini Games.
What about sportsmen themselves, do they benefit financially participating in the Games?
I wouldn’t say financially. Most federations have to do a lot of fund raising to come. Even though we are spending a lot of money here, it costs teams a lot of money to come here. They have to make the uniforms, they have to pay for their airfares, pay for per diems. So a big team, like Papua New Guinea, brings in 200. It’s a lot of money to bring the team here. But they do benefit long term. Like the experience with PNG. The government invested very heavily in PNG to make sure they will get on the top of medal count. And they did that in PNG. They have won the medal count for the first time in Pacific Games. That did not happen by accident. That was part of the plan. So all the sports benefited from that, and there are now a whole bunch of programs that Papua New Guinea is going to do.
So, do they benefit financially – no. But do they benefit from the increased exposure – for sure. And the teams have started to use media to promote their athletes, which hopefully would lead to the increase in sponsorship for particular federations. There has only been a couple of federations here to successfully market themselves, one of course is the Vanuatu Football Federation – VFF. Now I hope the Games will give an opportunity for all these other sports to market themselves.
‘Pacific Games is a good investment, but only if there is a plan for the next 20 years’
One of the controversies related to the Pacific Games in particular, and such events in countries like Vanuatu in general, is that countries need to spend a lot of money to organise such an event. And often they have to take loans, or use help of other governments, China in our case, allowing them to expand their control and presence both economically and politically. What would you say on that?
It is a lot of money, and nobody can ever argue that it would be better not to invest in schools, in hospitals, in social programs. But the idea that if you invest in the Games, and it’s not just a one time flash, then hopefully you do get the benefits. So countries that have hosted major Games, they had surveys to project the results of these investments. If you host the Games, what happens over the next 20 years? Does it increase participation in sports? If it does, would it reduce the healthcare costs? Does it make people stay in school longer?
Those are the things you have to look at to say why you invest in this event. And also national pride. Because the national pride of hosting something like this is important. Does it provide an economic benefit or does it provide a social benefit that can be measured?
I wouldn’t argue at all that this country could spend more money on health, education etc. But if decision was made to host the Games, you better do it properly. I think we are doing our job to make sure to minimize costs as much as possible.
The big thing is the facilities here for the most part were provided by the Chinese government. We need to make sure that those facilities are maintained, because that should be the benefit for the people.
Is it the right thing to spend money on? I don’t know, I’m not a politician, but if it’s done properly, delivered within budget and with a long term legacy, then I say yes, it is a good investment, but only if there is a plan for the next 20 years. It’s not my job to look that far down the track, but I hope we can help the stakeholders see what is achievable.
I think the controversies here are related more to the Games budget, and how we spent money. For example, people say why we can’t make the Games free to attend? Well, we need to control numbers, and I think we have made sure it is affordable – at 400 vatu for a day-long ticket, that’s a good value.
Another question we have been asked: why aren’t we spending more money in Vanuatu? In the structure of our payments, I think 73% is going in Vanuatu, while the other 27% is going outside. We have engaged 900 local people from community groups to clean the venues and to secure them, we are ordering 120,000 meals from local caterers who are buying food, hiring people and equipment; we are hiring 60 local buses and drivers to manage our transport, we are spending millions of vatu here in Vanuatu, but some of our goods were needed to be imported from outside, like China.
Also there has been a lot of controversy, and people keep asking why have we brought a foreigner here to be the Van2017 CEO? It is not for me to justify. But our Board, and the Pacific Games council, and VASANOC have decided we need to have more experienced person here to do it.
So those are the controversies that we have. But I think we have done our best to demonstrate that it is about hiring local people here, giving them skill sets. Out of our 72 staff right now we have only 4 expats on board, of which only two are from the outside of the country, while two others live here.
‘I’m 100% sure something will go wrong during the Games’
It seems like preparations for the Games are going quite well. But do you still have this feeling – what if something goes wrong, what if we will have problems during the event?
Things will go wrong. I’m 100% sure something will go wrong. We had an exercise last Sunday. We took our staff away, and went through scenarios when something goes wrong during the Games: it rains during open ceremonies; buses don’t turn up; there is an accident; people get sick. I hope we will do our best to minimize those, but certain things you can’t control. We can not control weather. If there’s a cyclone blowing on the 3d of December, preparing for the Games are not the biggest priority, priority should be the safety of the people.
It’s all about details now. That’s the challenge.
What’s your general impression of staying and working here in Vanuatu?
I think for us what is great here is that you can be on a beach with a cold drink in your hand, two minutes away from the office. And that’s how we relax when we finally get out of the office, usually on Sunday at 5 o’clock. And then we can let go the Games for a couple of hours, sit on the beach with a cold beer, and realize this is a special place.
We haven’t traveled much. We work 7 days a week. We only had one trip to Santo, that’s it. But I can tell you this is a happy place. People are friendly. Here everyone stops to say hello, everyone waves. We have never had any issues about security; we never had any issues with safety. We have been welcomed by everybody. We have a great staff working on the Games, and we made a lot of friends here.
Our hope is that after December 15, when the athletes have left our shores, we can indeed put our feet up for a little bit and really enjoy everything this country has to offer.