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Saturday, September 1, 2018


Six years ago, Pat's Football Blog received a document outlining the potential for a football structure in the Marshall Islands, an independent country in the Micronesia region of the Pacific, and wrote an article on its content, together with a few thoughts on the subject from Amy Sasser, a (then) representative of the Marshall Islands National Olympic Committee (MINOC), which is based in the nation's capital, Majuro.

Back then, Ms. Sasser told Pat's Football Blog that there was no organised football in the country, and was unaware of any football being played on Kwajalein Atoll, which also forms an integral part of the country but is the site of a US Army base, although the game has been played on Kwajalein for nigh on fifty years.

At a meeting held during July's Micronesian Games, which were held on the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) island of Yap, the Micronesian Games Council awarded the Marshall Islands the right to host the next Micronesian Games in 2022, with Majuro designated as the host venue. The Northern Marianas also expressed their interest in hosting the Games, but pulled out at the last minute, allowing the Marshall Islands the opportunity to host the gathering for the first time.

The Marshall Islands is one of the poorest countries in the world and lacks most of the sporting infrastructure needed to host an event such as the Micronesian Games; as a result, the government will be required to heavily invest in facilities. However, in a letter sent to the Micronesian Games Council's president Bill Keldermans in the run-up to the Council meeting, the country's president Hilda Heine stated that the nation's government was ready and able to provide the funding necessary to bring the nation's sporting infrastructure up to scratch.

President Heine wrote: "We understand that by taking responsibility to host the Micronesian Games we, the Marshall Islands Government, must also assume the responsibility to build the necessary facilities and infrastructure. The Marshall Islands Government is committed to provide the necessary budgetary requirements to support hosting the Micronesian Games."

In a country where space is at a premium, the construction of new sporting facilities might not be an easy task, but Ms. Heine added that the Micronesian Games "gives our youth positive alternatives and healthy outlets to express themselves."

In a presentation to the Micronesian Games Council in Yap on 22 July, the MINOC General Secretary Terry Sasser informed those gathered that facilities for basketball, beach volleyball, table-tennis, volleyball, weight-lifting, wrestling, canoe racing, Micronesian All-Round - which consists of Coconut tree-climbing, coconut grating and/or grating, running, diving, spear-fishing and swimming, and spear-fishing would be built or updated, along with tennis courts and two fast-pitch softball fields and a swimming pool. The budget for these improvements is an estimated US$4.5 million.

Sasser also laid out plans for an athletics track and grandstand, which, together with a car-park and other facilities, would be built on a man-made landfill within the Majuro Lagoon at an estimated cost of US$7.5 million.

An impressive legacy for the country's sportsmen of all ages and sporting preferences to inherit, one might think - and innovative to boot. Unfortunately, football might not be among those sports which will reap the benefits of the planned new stadium. Nor will it be played at the 2022 Micronesian Games, a spokesperson for the MINOC confirmed recently to Pat's Football Blog.  

When asked about the state of the game - or whether it was played - in the Marshall Islands, the spokesperson added that football "is not played in an organised fashion in the islands..we do not currently have the facilites or human resources to develop the sport of soccer at this time..There are no indoor facilities large enough, and only two outdoor spaces..that might be large enough for soccer. MINOC does not have funding for soccer and does not spend any of its funding on soccer."

They also stated that they have not personally seen any local interest in football, but were informed that there may be some, although if football is played in the islands, "it might be children playing unorganised pick-up games outdoors."

It was put to the spokesperson that perhaps CONIFA might be able to step in and offer logistical support to anyone in the Marshall Islands who would be interested in organising football in the country, whether they be within MINOC or without, and that MINOC could do some research on organisations outside the country which might be able to assist in this, but this - theoretical - option was dismissed. "MINOC's staff is already too busy managing/assisting the ten active sports we do have in [the Marshall Islands], so there is no-one who has the time to look into organisations who want [to help develop] soccer in the Republic of the Marshall Islands."

The Marshall Islands and MINOC have just four years to prepare for the 2022 Micronesian Games, and they will fly by. It is not imperative that football be included in the Games in four years' time, of course, or for football to be organised in some shape or form in the country during the next four years. 

It will most likely be up to individuals outside MINOC to organise football in the islands, probably through that most effective of media, word of mouth, and to take advantage of the opportunity offered to the country and its sporting public of hosting a prestigious international tournament and being able to use proper sporting facilites - thereby potentially increasing the number of active sports being played in the islands - somewhere actually big enough to host (international) football matches and satisfy FIFA's membership criteria.

But, organising football in the Marshall Islands will need MINOC's help, to some degree, at least, and that does not appear to be forthcoming. Could the hosting of the next Micronesian Games and the building of a new stadium turn out to be an opportunity wasted for the development of football there, and all because someone refused to countenance sitting down in front of a computer for a couple of hours in order to do some research?

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to the (unnamed) spokesperson from the Marshall Islands National Olympic Committee for their assistance.

Much of the information contained in the above article was taken from the Marshall Islands Journal, the Kaselehlie Press and the 2018 Micronesian Games website.

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