The Arafura Games will be making its return next week (from April 26 to May 4) after a lengthy eight-year hiatus, and will feature more than 120 Filipino athletes.
The biennial multi-sport event organized by the Northern Territory (NT) Government of Australia means to showcase the local indigenous culture. It is famously known for its inclusivity, with disabled athletes competing in the same program as able-bodied athletes. For this year’s edition, the programs that integrate para-athletes include athletics, swimming, tennis, and table tennis.
Around 1,500 athletes from 40 countries are expected to converge in Darwin, Australia, including the Philippines, which has been sending athletes since the 1990s.
“We have a strong history with Arafura, because we have a lot of students from Mindanao study in NT universities,” said Mark Velasco, chef de mission and head of the delegation for the Philippines, during the send-off at the Australian Ambassador’s residence in Forbes Park, Makati last Tuesday.
“They’re trying to revive the games again after being gone for about seven editions, so they want to make this Arafura special. There used to be eight sports; now there’s like seventeen. That’s why we also have a bigger delegation now, around more than a hundred.”
The Philippine contingent will include athletes for boxing, basketball, athletics, sepak takraw, beach volleyball, swimming, tennis, table tennis, weightlifting. They will be led by a promising Muay Thai team featuring world champion Ariel Lee Lampacan.
“We’re just going to play well. I’m not going to predict the number of medals because actually right now, we don’t know how many medals are at stake, but we’re going to try our best,” shared Velasco.
The national director for the Philippine Sports Institute also added that one of the objectives is for the athletes – comprised mostly of Mindanaoans – to gain experience from the week-long meet.
“It’s really an avenue for the athletes from the provinces to get international exposure. So this is more of a developmental approach to get them used to international competition, para medyo hindi napag-iwanan yung provinces. This one is regalo sa kanila talaga,” Velasco added.