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Friday, November 9, 2012

FOOTBALL'S TWILIGHT ZONES: TOKELAU



The tiny New Zealand dependent territory of Tokelau is probably not a place many football fans will have heard of. Situated some 300 miles north of Samoa, it consists of three atolls with a combined land area of just 12 square kilometres, and a census, taken in October last year, recorded a (de jure) population of 1411 people. Another 6800 Tokelauans were recorded as living in New Zealand in 2006 at the time of the census of their “mother country”; two-thirds of them were born in New Zealand. Many other Tokelauans and their families live in Samoa, Australia and Hawaii.

The islands are also comparatively isolated; there is no airport of any description anywhere on the islands, and the only current regular method of travelling to the territory is a boat-trip from the Samoan capital, Apia, which takes more than 24 hours.

Tokelau is better known for technological matters than for football: the islands are home to the .tk internet domain, and in the next few weeks Tokelau is due to be the first nation anywhere in the world to rely solely on solar-power for all its energy needs.

On to sporting matters now, and both rugby codes are very popular on the islands, rugby league especially so. Lawn bowling, table-tennis and netball are also widely played. But what of football? It is not an integral part of the average Tokelauan’s sporting diet, according to the local government’s Sports Coordinator, Susan Perez.

In a recent short communication with Pat’s Football Blog, Ms. Perez stated that: “Soccer is played socially on Tokelau – socially as in a few kids kicking around a ball; not necessarily a soccer ball.” 

Despite the fact that a quick scouring of Wikipedia turned up two teams – Hatava and Mataleve – Ms. Perez said that “there are no soccer teams on Tokelau, formal or informal..There is no formal structure of a Tokelau Football Association.”

Ms. Perez added that each of the three islands – Fakaofo, Nukunonu and Atafu - which make up Tokelau has “a rugby field which has little or no grass and is mostly sandy coral. [Each field] also has normal standard rugby goal-posts.” 

Although one of the pitches, that on Nukunonu atoll, is listed in Wikipedia and various blogs and websites as carrying the name Hemoana Stadium, photographs (and Google Maps) would seem to show that the field used for sporting activities would not be classified as being a stadium or actually being large enough to correspond to the minimum official measurements of a football pitch. None of the atolls appear to be wide enough to support a full-size pitch, but that is a moot point to those who use them. Just as it should be.

“Most people congregate late afternoon to participate in various sports - mainly Touch, Rugby Union and Rugby League,” according to Ms. Perez, who was recently narrowly defeated in an election for the post of Secretary-General in the Pacific Games Executive Council

Netball, table-tennis and cricket are also widely played across Tokelau, and, together with Rugby Sevens form a part of the territory's National Games, a more or less annual competition for teams representing each atoll. Football plays no part in the competition.

Even so, all is not yet lost as far as football is concerned. It may yet have a future in the islands, as plans are afoot to include football in Tokelau’s PE curriculum. “I have contacted the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) in exploring Tokelau using their Push Play (sic – the OFC are busy implementing their Just Play programme, aimed at school-age children in its member states) programme in our Schools Physical Activity on Tokelau,” Ms. Perez concluded.

That would certainly be a welcome development in more ways than one; the implementation of such a programme could conceivably create the foundations for a long-term future for football in the islands. It would be something new for many of the local children to try as well as being a method of helping improve their cognitive skills.

Most importantly of all, perhaps, the possible inclusion of football in Tokelau’s school-curriculum would surely help put a dent in the territory’s obesity rate, which - according to the Report of the Administrator of Tokelau, published to the New Zealand government on 30/6/10, citing a nation-wide screening which took place earlier the same year - stood at a rather alarming 86.7% of the population in 2010, a percentage which the report claimed was the highest of any political entity in the Pacific region

The implementation of Just Play would be a win-win situation all round for Tokelau's population, and has already benefited more than 70000 children of primary-school age across the Pacific. The OFC initiated the project in 2009 in conjunction with UEFA, the FFA (Football Federation Australia) and the Australian government agencies AusAID (Australian Agency for International Development) and the ASC (Australian Sports Commission). It all would tie in nicely with the Tokelau government's National Strategic Plan 2010-2015,
under which local sport is also catered for.

The Tokelauan government's website also touches on the role of sport in Tokelau, and contains the following excerpt:

"The benefits of sport in our community, is acknowledged and supported by the Village Councils and Government as stated in our Tokelau National Strategic Plan 2010-2015

“Strengthening national sports development and enhance opportunities for equal participation by women, girls, men and boys from all villages”


We are committed to a long term plan to increase the;
 

1 Participation of Sports on Tokelau; 
2 Increasing the competitive profile of Tokelau sports in the Region; 
3 Encourage the development of sporting relations with our Tokelauan communities overseas"

Of course, whether football will ever become a popular sport in Tokelau is irrelevant in the overall scheme of things. It is a small, isolated place, with few natural resources and a tiny, widely-dispersed population. The territory's inhabitants have a lot more important things to worry about than football, but, in an age where football has become an cynical, media-manipulated, over-commercialised monster which is almost impossible to control, it is good to see a football confederation consciously assist in doing something positive for a section of the community, and one can only hope that the future adult population of Tokelau will eventually benefit from this. Who knows, although it is still a long way down the road at best, maybe one day a Tokelau side will take to the field in international competition.
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AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many and grateful thanks to Tokelau's governmental Sports Coordinator Susan Perez for her input; other sources of information such as Wikipedia were as given in the above article.

Link to information on (and a photograph of) Hemoana Stadium on Nukunonu atoll:

http://nl.soccerway.com/venues/new-zealand/hemoana-stadium/

Link to the website of the Government of Tokelau:

www.tokelau.org.nz



 


6 comments:

  1. I am Brazilian and I wonder what the squad's football team Matalele or Hakava, because I would like to learn more about football in Tokelau.

    Thank you.

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  2. Pat's Football BlogJanuary 3, 2013 at 11:32 AM

    As you will see if you re-read the article, Danclads, there is no organised football in Tokelau, so there is nothing there to learn about, unfortunately. Sorry, but thanks for your comment and have a good New Year.

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