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The Future Hawai’i Olympics Delegation?

July 29, 2012 - Ray Tsuchiyama

The Olympics occur once every four years – except during the two World Wars – when it was suspended due to several of its member states that were trying desperately to destroy each other. The Olympics Games is the only event that draws participants from every corner of the globe, from huge countries to tiny states, from China with 1.2 billion people to Tuvalu, a small island-nation (actually, there are four reef islands) of fewer than 10,000 citizens (Kihei with 12 square miles of sunny territory has twice as many people and probably more gleaming gas grills). For any Olympics athlete or team manager or trainer, the Olympics experience – even without medals – is the event of a lifetime (with great friends from all corners of the world – and a deeper appreciation of different peoples, cultures, foods, and a common humanity).

Without the Olympics, many global television viewers would never hear of Tuvalu. Or Vanuatu (250,000 people) or the Cook Islands (20,000). American Samoa and the Independent State of Samoa (known as Western Samoa) field two separate teams and their combined population is barely 250,000 – a fifth of Hawai’i’s population.

International legal reasons confirm why American Samoa, an unincorporated territory of the United States located in the South Pacific Ocean, has the right to send a joyful team for a memorable visit to the London Olympics. You can add Puerto Rico (officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico), again an unincorporated territory of the United States, with a population of 3.7 million or about four times the State of Hawai’i.

I won’t go into these long list of legal reasons why Samoa or Tuvalu and not Hawai’i – since my blog post point, during marathon television viewings of exciting Olympics water polo, beach volley ball, swimming, boxing, running, and basketball – is that if Hawai’i wants unbelievable PR (for tourism, branding) with 2 billion television viewers watching a colorful (and strong, agile, confident) Hawai’i Olympics delegation at the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics along the Thames River, Hawai’i has to develop a strategy to convince the International Olympic Committee that Hawai’i is indeed somehow “independent”, a former historical Kingdom, and deserving of an Olympics team entry.

By having a separate team, all the eyes of the world will be on Hawai’i in future Olympics.

One option may be to join Native American tribes (Navajo, Hopi), recognized as “nations” by the U.S. government for a separate Olympics team (imagine an Apache dancer and Hawaiian oli chanter leading the delegation!). However, the U.S. Federal government recognizes tribal nations as "domestic dependent nations" and although federal laws grant local sovereignty to tribal “nations”, the U.S. government does not grant full sovereignty equivalent to foreign nations (like a Navajo “passport” to travel within and outside the U.S.), so we have a strange term of "domestic dependent nations". But it is a start of a good argument with the IOC to start a dialogue regarding Hawai’i, a tiny island state just like Tuvalu.

The future Hawai’i-only Olympics team has a good population pool; aside from 1.2 million Hawai’i inhabitants, there are another 60,000 former Hawai’i residents living in Clark County, Nevada (suffering from real estate woes), and another 20,000 spread across the Mainland diaspora, from Seattle to Portland to the Bay Area to Los Angeles and San Diego – and pockets in Arizona, Colorado, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Don't we want talented Hawai'i youth to travel to London or Rio de Janeiro (2016 Olympics venue) to gain global experiences and add to our society and economy back home? Imagine Hawai'i exports expanding to Great Britain or Brazil.

If the IOC suddenly changed its mind and allowed Hawai’i as the 206th Olympics member, with its own Hawai’i Olympics delegation, I can see some Olympics sports with natural Hawaiian advantages – like boxing (Kalihi-Waianae-Nanakuli centers of excellence or a kid, formerly from Kula, now training in East L.A.), swimming (an Olympics bid would accelerate the Natatorium pool renovation and contribute to Waikiki’s beautification), and beach volleyball (why we don’t dominate this sport globally is a mystery to me).

Yet Hawai’i has to think strategically, and start lobbying for a sport that it could excel in: for example, in 12 years stand-up paddle-boarding, after years of Hawai’i presentations to the IOC, could become an Olympics sport and by the time the Chinese or Russians figure it out, the Hawai’i Olympics team could easily sweep the paddle-board gold medal rush. As a tiny island-state, we have to think and act more akamai.

For an Olympics vision from a Pu’unene Grammar School teacher named Soichi Sakamoto in 1937, see Charlie Oda and the Lost 1944 Rome Swimming Trophy


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