PORT MORESBY, July 1 – Characterised by lithe athletes jlinking, sprinting, ducking, weaving and diving, touch is one of the most unique sports included on the Port Moresby 2015 Pacific Games schedule.
It is difficult to pass a park, oval or dusty cracked carpark in Port Moresby without seeing lines of touch players spinning a ball between one another, running in pursuit or escape with the ultimate goal of scoring or preventing a try – so it is a happy homecoming for the sport in the rugby league crazy PNG.
After being omitted from the programme most recent Games in New Caledonia in 2011, the rugby league derived sport makes its return in 2015 in Papua New Guinea.
Touch is not played at any other multi-sport event in the world, and its inclusion in the Pacific Games is fitting as its popularity reaches across Oceania, where the rugby codes are the dominant sports.
Touch was initially developed in Australia as a less physically impactful training version of rugby league with official rules being enshrined in the early 1980s, and since then has grown to now be played across the world.
The sport’s main attraction with amateur players is its limited-contact nature, opening it up to men and women of all ages who are unwilling or unable to play a full-contact rugby code.
But that is not to say the elite players are not fine athletes.
At the 2015 World Cup, played recently in Coffs Harbour, Australia, teams gathered from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and Oceania to determine the world’s best.
PNG secured the best results of the teams that will compete in the Pacific Games, third in both the men’s and mixed competitions.
At the two most recent Pacific Games where touch was played Fiji had the most success.
At the 2003 Pacific Games in Fiji, the home nation won both the men’s and mixed gold medals and in the 2007 event Fiji defended its men’s title with Samoa winning the mixed competition and the Cook Islands the women’s gold.
At Port Moresby 2015 the touch competition begins on 3 July with men’s and women’s teams taking to the Bisini Grounds ahead of the official opening of the Games on July 4.
Teams from Kiribati, PNG, Samoa, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, Tonga and the Cook Islands will take part – with PNG being strong favourites to take at least one gold.
The men’s and women’s gold medals will be decided on July 7 and the mixed competition concludes on July 10.
For information about touch tickets call the Pacific Games ticket hotline on 180 2015 or download the ticket purchasing guide.