The annual Festival des Iles, Tahiti’s version of the World Cup, concluded to great fanfare at the weekend following a week of footballing festivities taking in football, futsal and beach soccer.
The event brings together close to 2000 athletes from 31 different islands which help make up French Polynesia.
A major attraction on the sporting calendar since its inception in 2008 the Festival des Iles, also known as the “Challenge Alphonse Greig” draws a huge number of spectators to the four sites which host more than 350 matches.
As well as providing an opportunity for athletes to engage in their chosen discipline and compete island against island, at its roots the Festival des Iles offers the chance to promote culture and friendship.
One of the highlights is the opening ceremony, held on the Monday evening, which invites each delegation to perform a cultural piece specific to their island and archipelago.
Head of Delegation for Rapa, one of the islands from the Australes archipelago, Phillippe Miquel, said the Festival des Iles is incredibly important for the youth of Rapa.
“It gets them out, helps them discover futsal in general, and it encourages them to build on the friendship between Rapa and the other islands in French Polynesia,” Miquel said.
“It’s a great opportunity for us. We’re quite far from everything and it’s a pleasure to come here and participate.”
To take part in the Festival des Iles the delegation from Rapa spend two days travelling by boat, and bringing a men’s and women’s futsal team costs approximately 3.5 million Pacific Francs.
However, Miguel said the financial cost is more than covered by the benefits which the Festival offers the young athletes.
“It’s not just about sport, but culture as well. It’s how we valorise our island. Futsal is truly a past-time for our youth, football as well. We’ve taken part every year for ten years now and it’s given us a certain level of experience which means we’re often making it to the finals.”
Rapa are often favourites for the coveted men’s futsal title, an event which draws a large, vocal crowd which fills Salle Fautaua to the brim.
This year was no different as Rapa narrowly beat Takaroa with a last second goal from captain Akareva Riaria in the semi-final to secure passage to the final.
Joining them in the final was Pirae who also had a tight battle in the semi-final to contend with, beating Punaauia in a penalty shootout to earn the right to play for the title.
The defending champions proved too tough a challenge for Pirae to overcome with Rapa going 3-0 up in the first half. Pirae put in the hard yards for a comeback pulling two goals back in the second half but when they opted for a flying keeper it opened them up to a counter attack which saw veteran Matana Bea seal a 4-2 victory for his side.
In the women’s futsal final Tahaa took on Papeete for the Festival des Iles title. It was a closely contested encounter with the two sides tough to separate in the opening exchanges. It took 20 minutes for Papeete to finally break down the defences with Hitiura Timo scoring the opener before Ravahere Ueva and Ramateata Ueva added three more in the second half to seal a 4-0 win.
In the beach soccer competition the experience of the Tahiti-based teams proved too great for their island counterparts to contend with.
The final saw Tiki Tama, a side littered with Tiki Toa like Naea Bennett, Raimana Li Fung Kuee, Ariihau Teriitau and Raimoana Bennett, take on Rurutu.
While evidently a mis-match, Rurutu never gave up and despite conceding 18 goals, also managed to put six fairly spectacular goals of their own past their opponent.
Stade Fautaua played host to both the men’s and women’s finals.
Like the 2018 edition of the Festival des Iles, it was two Tefana teams playing for the title. The senior team beating their U-23 counterparts 1-1 (1-0) in a penalty shootout to ensure they’d keep the silverware for a second year straight.
Winning coach Keila Marmouyet was impressed her side held on from start to finish to claim a second consecutive title.
“At the beginning I didn’t really believe we could do it because the side has aged. The oldest player is 52 years old! But it proves there is no age in football,” Marmouyet said.
“It’s the second time we’ve taken part and the second time we’ve won. The ambiance is fantastic, it’s also a pleasure to meet everyone from the islands.”
In terms of the final, Marmouyet said it was an incredibly close match.
“It was experience which won,” she laughed. “But in general, it’s great to see women so present during the festival, women can play and should play. I’ve been playing for 30 years myself and I put all my girls in football
In the men’s final AS Mira of Moorea played St Etienne from the Marquises islands. Another tight match which saw Mira claim the gold medal with a 1-0 victory.
The Festival des Iles will return for the 12th edition in April 2020.