Sport education for developing holistic athletes in Oceania

Karo Lelai, Chair of the ONOC and ANOC Athletes’ Commissions, discusses how sport education offers the range of skills and literacies Oceania athletes need to manage their personal, sporting, and post-sport professional careers – what is available and what could be strengthened through the flagship Oceania Sport Education Programme (OSEP) micro-qualifications and accreditation process.

Pacific island countries and the sporting sector need to recognise that athlete welfare is paramount for athlete development and performance; and both the sector and athletes benefit from recognition of the importance of sport education.

Looking at athletes’ needs and welfare linking to sport education

Karo Lelai, Chair of the ONOC Athletes’ Commission and herself a former elite athlete of Papua New Guinea in basketball said; “an athlete’s needs are holistic – both on and off the field of play.”

“We must take care of their needs off the field of play for them to be able to have the peace of mind and mental focus to excel on the field of play and sport education offers this for both athletes and others work in the sporting sector.”

Lelai spoke from the Oceania National Olympic Committees (ONOC) technical workshop where leading sport experts gathered to review and endorse sport education micro-qualifications toward accreditation of the fifteen-year-old flagship Oceania Sport Education Programme (OSEP), which will progressively expand course offerings through the Pacific Islands.

The accreditation process will see courses absorbed by higher education institutions accredited to the Pacific Community (SPC) Educational Quality and Assessment Programme (EQAP) Pacific Qualifications Framework (PQF) – an exercise that will guarantee graduates recognition of their formal qualifications and for those interested, mobility into higher academic programmes.

Athletes need to pay attention to OSEP and sport education

Lelai said; “athletes must pay attention to sport education because aside from gaining valuable knowledge to aid their own understanding of high performance, it also assists them prepare for life after sports.”

“Together with their experience as elite athletes, undertaking OSEP courses and participating in all other OSEP activities and programmes will differentiate their curriculum vitae from others and make an athlete a more attractive employee.”

On discussing access to sport education and learning opportunities, Lelai said; “previously, athletes may have had to choose between education and sport or pursue one over another, but with the advent of the digital era there is more that could be done in the digital space with internet access and a mobile phone.”‍

“The IOC Athletes’ Commission, for example, has loads of useful online learning tools in small bites that are easily understood and useful for athletes to not only navigate the changing world but also start thinking about a career after sports.”

The ongoing accreditation of OSEP courses, the prospect of more Pacific Islands higher education institutions offering sport education in bite-size micro-qualifications, and the upcoming OSEP Learning Management System (LMS) scheduled to be launched this year are all opportunities that athletes in Oceania can take advantage of.

Digital and financial literacies important for Oceania athletes

Furthermore, Lelai emphasised that digital and financial literacy are two critical literacies that athletes in Oceania need to prioritise in the Pacific islands, for both their own personal management but also to understand and make active and deep contributions to the organisations, institutions and structures that exist for their welfare, and this cannot occur without sport education.

Lelai said; “Being digitally literate enables athletes to access online learning tools, programmes and applications that are designed for convenience and contribute to reducing carbon emissions.”

This is particularly important for the Pacific Islands being at the frontline of climate change and the work of ONOC and its islands athletes toward sustainability can be met through simple learnings and changes in athletes’ daily living practice.

Athletes adept with digital tools can educate themselves at their own pace and convenience, and simultaneously engage in personal practice that lends weight to ONOC’s upcoming establishment of the new Sustainability Commission.

Lelai said; “given the Pacific still lags behind the rest of the world, ONOC could consider developing short videos customised to Pacific athletes to educate and raise awareness on basic digital literacy in the context of sports – this could be loaded onto the new ONOC Athletes’ Commission microsite which is built to serve our Oceania athletes.”

Financial literacy was also tagged by Lelai as critical to athletes in Oceania because personal planning requires attention to finance and its management at personal and family levels.

Part of the Oceania Continent sports experts who contributed to the workshop in Nadi, Fiji. | Photo: ONOC

This takes on a contextual shift in the Pacific Islands because families and communities are communal in nature and wealth is shared through obligatory giving through kinship lines and associated ceremonies; an introduced addition to this context is faith which obligates giving to church or faith communities.

Lelai stated that; “financial literacy is important for athletes because it is important to be able to manage one’s personal finance prudently.”

“This is important because athletes must know that to achieve their personal goals, they must have some sense of financial planning.

“However, the most important reason for understanding finance is that all athletes need to be financially stable after their playing or sporting career is over.”

This links directly back to the importance of athletes paying more attention to sport education to complement their current education achievements, and toward exploring professional employment and entrepreneurship after their active sports life as elites lead to retirement.

As Lelai has mentioned, these are concepts that the IOC and Athlete 365 address at global level but OSEP and ONOC could open this to all athletes in Oceania through its progressive accreditation rollout and its soon-to-be launched OSEP Learning Management System via the development of micro-courses.


Karo Lelai will be giving up the reigns at this Athletes’ Forum after years of stellar service and advocacy and voice for the athletes of Oceania. The OSEP Programme extends gratitude to this fine daughter of Papua New Guinea and Oceania for services rendered to regional and global sport all the way to IOC Olympic levels.

Please visit the following links for more:

On the Oceania National Olympic Committees
On the Oceania Sport Education Programme
On the ONOC Athletes’ Commission
On the IOC Athlete 365 platform for Olympians
On the Pacific Community’s EQAP


Article adapted from the ONOC website.