Samoan sailor says cost of participation a barrier for Pasifika

An Olympic-bound Samoan sailor says the cost of participation is preventing more Pacific sailors from pursuing the sport.

Eroni Leilua, from Vaivasa-Uta in Upolu, will become the first sailor to represent Samoa at the Summer Games after qualifying at the world championships in Melbourne earlier this month, but he hopes he is not the last.

He said it was disappointing to think the potential of Pacific sailors was being restricted by financial obstacles.

"Money is difficult as it is but to get into a sport like sailing, it's pretty tough," he said.

"It's definitely been the biggest obstacle [for me] and especially being from a Pacific Island background."

"I was just fortunate to have the right doors open but for majority of other kids if they're going to start sailing it's a tough gig...I'm just really humbled and honoured to be in this position but I also hope I'm not the last."

The 26-year-old is facing his own financial hurdle as he aims to save up to $NZ40,000 towards his Olympic campaign. As well as working a full-time job, Leilua is on a full-time training schedule while also searching other avenues to support his dream.

"Funding is probably the biggest thing I've needed to plan out in terms of preparations as the campaign is shaping up to be quite a costly exercise and so I've just tried to work out what costs I need to cover and where I can get that funding from."

"The Apia Yacht Club and Samoa Sailing Association provided me with some funding towards the Worlds in Melbourne, but the rest has been funded either by fundraising donations and my own money."

With only five months before the Tokyo Games, Leilua is working hard just to get his campaign underway, but said making his parents proud was his biggest motivator.

"I'm probably going to need money to come in within the next month or so just to start paying for things like training camps and coaching...I started a crowd-funding page, which I'll be using over the course of my preparations," he said.

"I've had a lot of support from back home in Samoa and in New Zealand where I'm training at the moment as well as in Australia and the states...especially from my parents, my partner and her parents who have all been amazing in helping me with my journey this far.

"Dad has been there every step of the way at every regatta no matter where it's been in the world. He's put a lot of money and time into seeing us kids achieve our goals and to qualify for the games, I hope it's made him and mum proud."

Leilua is looking forward to making his mark on the Olympic stage later this year, but he hopes to encourage other Pacific sailors and athletes to chase their dreams regardless of their financial situation.

"I want to make sure that the up and coming sailors in Samoa and around the Pacific understand that there are opportunities to pursue the sport further."

"As difficult as it may seem, if you put the hard work in and do everything you need to do, the results will come and then the opportunity to attend these events will become available."

"[Going to the Olympics] it's obviously been a dream of mine for a long time now and to have it finally being achieved it's been pretty surreal."