The coronavirus pandemic has been the main backdrop behind football in 2020.
Nobody has been able to avoid disruption in some capacity around the globe and the impact has been wide-reaching.
As part of OFC Media’s 2020 Review, we will look at what has happened across a range of topics in football throughout the Pacific this year.
2020 began in the best possible fashion for beach soccer thanks to the third annual Sirubai Beach Soccer Tournament, which has become a key event in the local sporting calendar in the Solomon Islands.
Held at Kubolia Beach Soccer Stadium on South Vella Island in the Western Province from January 1-6, the competition hosted 18 teams showcasing the growing popularity of the code in the Solomons.
During the 2019 OFC Beach Soccer Nations Cup in Tahiti, the Solomon Islands national team, the Bilikiki, came within a whisker of qualifying for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup but went down 4-3 to the local favourites in the title decider.
Throughout their campaign in French Polynesia the Solomon Islanders’ natural skills and talent on the sand won plenty of admiration and inspired a renewed interest in beach soccer back home.
In order to promote and help to grow the game the Local Organising Committee at Suribai Beach took the initiative to waive the registration fee for the competition, with the costs covered by the two local associations and the Solomon Islands Football Federation (SIFF).
Following six days of play, Mudskipper Orange, led by Bilikiki star Kiven Koipala defeated Kirirbiri 1 FC 2-0 to claim the title.
Following a break in sporting activities due to restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, competitive beach soccer resumed in the Solomon Islands with the National Invitational Beach Soccer Championship at Honiara’s DC Park between November 9-14.
One of the main aims of the competition was to scout for new talent to represent the national team in next year’s OFC Beach Soccer Nations Cup; to help with the talent identification and player selection a SIFF technical study group was deployed.
The highly competitive tournament culminated in a thrilling final in which Malaita Kwikwi edged the Honiara Titans 6-5 to be crowned champions.
The Honiara Lightning bolts defeated Western Kikio 7-5 in another entertaining encounter to claim third spot.
Former Bilikiki talisman James Naka finished the tournament as the top scorer with 15 goals, while Roy Mafane was named best player of the tournament.
The future of beach soccer in the Solomon Islands is looking bright and it’s fitting that the game which helped to celebrate the start of the new year will also close it.
The Beiporo community will follow in the footsteps of the three already existing beach soccer sites in Western Province including Lea Beach in Ranongga Island, Simboro Beach in West Gizo, and Sirubai Beach in South Vella Island to host a grassroots tournament between December 28 -31.
This latest competition is another sign of the increasing popularity of the game in the country’s rural areas during the past three years.
The game of beach soccer has enjoyed incredible growth and popularity in Tahiti during the past decade thanks to the extraordinary achievements of the national team named the Tiki Toa, our region’s most successful team on the global stage after finishing second at two separate FIFA Beach Soccer Word Cups.
During this period the top Tahitian players, who on the sand have become bonafide superstars, not only across their home nation of just 190,000 citizens but also the entire beach soccer world.
Despite restrictions and setbacks caused by the global pandemic, the game of beach soccer had another successful year with a strong focus on club competition and development.
Tiki Tama were crowned champions of the ten-team 2020 OPT Elite Men’s Beach Soccer Cup tournament following a perfect season with nine wins from as many matches.
AS Pirea finished second, while the BSC Green Warriors rounded out the top three.
Green Warriors star Teaonui Tehau finished the season as the top scorer with 18 goals.
Meanwhile, in the women’s tournament the Green Warriors claimed the title ahead of Tiki Tama and AS Mataiea with the Warriors’ Deana Tahiamakouaki collecting the top scorer award with 11 goals.
Beach soccer also has a rich and proud tradition in Vanuatu and 2020 produced a renewed excitement about the future of the popular sand-based game in the Melanesian country.
Following a six-year hiatus, Vanuatu’s beach soccer programme made a triumphant return in 2019 with the establishment of the country’s first permanent pitch at Port Vila’s Korman Stadium.
A few months later the national side finished fourth at the OFC Beach Soccer Nations Cup, following a hard-fought 8-7 extra time defeat to New Caledonia in the bronze medal match.
That tournament in Tahiti was a major stepping stone on the road to rejuvenate the football-mad Pacific nation’s beach soccer scene at grassroots, youth and senior level.
At the beginning of October the Vanuatu Football Federation (VFF) announced the revival of Port Vila’s beach soccer league with business houses for the remainder of 2020.
The competition at the Korman Beach Soccer Field was designed to lay the foundations for the start of an elite men’s beach soccer league next year in the nation’s capital.
A total of 14 teams and 350 players registered to participate in competition, including a number of quality former national players that have returned to the sand, including Seimata Chilia, Koko Alick, Joe Pakoa and Simo Joseph and their participation helped to raise the profile of the league.
VFF Beach Soccer Development Officer Joel Rarua said the 2020 Beach Soccer Business League Championship was a big boost for the game’s development.
“Our main goal is to build our partnerships with the stakeholders, prepare our teams and players for an elite domestic competition in 2021 as well as future Oceania tournaments,” he said.
Although the new competition is a significant milestone, Rarua also stressed the importance of a strategic grassroots and youth development plan in order to breath new life into the game in Vanuatu.
“We established a performance centre for youth beach soccer players and we provide regular, weekly training sessions for our under-15 players,” he said.
“Our long-term vision includes the roll out of a strategic youth beach soccer programme that will include school visits to promote and grow the popularity of the game.”
OFC Head of Football Development Paul Toohey was delighted with the progress the game has made in Vanuatu since 2019.
“It is great to see VFF and Joel building on the work commenced last year,” he said.
“Together with Korman Stadium they have created the demand for beach soccer in an accessible part of Port Vila and I am certain the game will go from strength to strength as more people in the community want to join in.
“OFC have been happy to support VFF and other Member Associations through our beach soccer development programme to ensure the equipment we provide is being put to great use all over the region.”
Tonga’s beach soccer programme has continually improved since the establishment of a beach soccer centre at the island of Ha’apai in 2019.
The country’s national team, the Tautahi, embarked on their maiden international appearance at the 2019 OFC Beach Soccer Nations Cup.
After returning home armed with valuable experience the island of Ha’apai has continued on a journey to become Tonga’s beach soccer hub with a view to developing competitive players and teams for the future.
One of the highlights of Tonga’s busy 2020 beach soccer development programme was the Heilala Manongi Mini Tournament Ha’apai Women’s Beach Soccer event at the end of November.