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.
Catch our previous story on women’s football, while there’s more to come next week.
On the back of a successful 2919 that treated Pacific futsal fans to some thrilling action through both the OFC Futsal Nations Cup and the inaugural OFC Futsal Champions League, there was plenty of anticipation about the game’s development in 2020.
A number of Member Associations, including New Caledonia, New Zealand, Fiji, Tahiti and Vanuatu showed their potential as well as the willingness to invest in futsal development in order to challenge the dominance of the region’s powerhouse the Solomon Islands.
The Kurukuru also had high hopes of another memorable campaign on the global stage, as they were preparing to represent OFC at the 2020 FIFA Futsal World Cup that was scheduled to take place between September 12 and October 4 in Lithuania.
Meanwhile, the OFC Futsal Champions League was going to offer the region’s leading clubs another opportunity to represent their countries and test themselves on the continental stage.
But with the coronavirus pandemic forcing the postponement and cancelation of international football tournaments and competitions all around the globe, the impact on the Pacific futsal community was significant.
With the borders closed, OFC was quick to move its development courses and workshops online with OFC Futsal Educator Juliano Schmeling leading the charge.
Schmeling, whose extensive futsal experience includes work with the New Caledonian and Solomon Islands national teams, said online futsal coach education courses through online workshops offered a valuable tool in the new environment.
“I think this is the way to go forward, not just in the short term but for the future. I understand that it is very important when the instructor flies to the countries in Oceania, but these online meetings can be very helpful for all our coaches in the OFC region,” he said.
As futsal coaches tackled online learning and some of the restrictions in the Member Associations eased, domestic competitions in New Caledonia, Fiji and New Zealand also resumed.
Auckland City were crowned the 2020 New Zealand Men’s Futsal SuperLeague champions after defeating the Waikato Rapids 2-0 in the eight-team competition’s final at Auckland’s Pulman Arena in November.
The exciting new Northern Region Football (NRF) Futsal Premier League was also introduced in New Zealand in October, with the northern region’s top futsal talent, including female players, drafted into an exciting four-team tournament played out across four weekends.
Western – who contained a large number of players from the Waikato Rapids – prevailed over Northern in the final. The tournament was a huge success, and NRF intend to build on this innovative concept, with more tournaments planned in 2021.
In New Caledonia, 2019 OFC Futsal Champions League runners-up ASPTT Noumea completed the domestic double by winning the 2020 Caledonia Futsal Cup following a thrilling 5-4 victory over AS Universite in the first week of December.
Meanwhile, on the same weekend in Fiji, Suva reigned supreme after retaining their Inter-District Championship by defeating Lami 3-1 in a repeat of the 2019 title decider (that was played in August 2020) at the capital city’s FMF Gymnasium.
Despite the challenges of 2020, there were plenty of other positive futsal developments in our region.
There is renewed optimism about the future of the game in Fiji thanks to same major steps taken forward by Fiji’s Futsal Development Officer Mira Sahib.
Drawing on support and assistance from OFC’s futsal development programme, Sahib and his team have embarked on a nationwide programme to establish local competitions covering every district of the country.
With an emphasis on structural changes, coach education, player development, talent identification and the creation of new meaningful competitions the aim is to grow participation numbers and provide pathways from grassroots to the elite level.
Thanks to their efforts a major milestone was reached with the launch of new local leagues in Suva, Lami, Nasinu, Ba, Labasa, Rewa, Nadroga, Nadi and Rakiraki.
In addition, there are plans to set up a number of local women’s leagues with the Fiji Football Association (Fiji FA) already in talks with Suva, Ba, Lami and Nasinu.
The Fijian approach to build from the ground up received the full backing of OFC.
“It’s great to see the way Mira and Fiji FA are working because what they are focusing on is a long-term strategy,” OFC Head of Football Development Paul Toohey said.
“Mira and his team’s mission to take futsal to the people and regions and set up competitions despite the lack of traditional courts and facilities will go a long way to ignite interest and a love of the game.
“By focusing on increasing the participation of young players, they will create a future demand for more futsal competitions at regional, national and international level.”
There are also encouraging signs in Vanuatu with the drive, passion and motivation of one of Oceania’s greatest futsal players Ben Hungai.
Just a couple of months after his retirement at last year’s OFC Futsal Nations Cup, Hungai travelled to Auckland to be part of an OFC futsal study group and coach education course.
This has enabled Hungai to lead the Vanuatu Football Federation’s futsal education programme in 2020, with more courses to follow in 2021.
He has conducted coaching courses in Vanuatu and participated in an OFC Futsal C Licence online workshop run by Schmeling.
“I’m determined to share my experiences, to pass on my knowledge and inspire others to get involved in this game,” the former Vanuatu skipper said.
“My great hope and vision is to bring futsal to every corner of Vanuatu and Oceania, to every school and every remote island, I’m determined to educate and develop our great game in the Pacific.”
Toohey said Hungai was a huge asset for futsal in Vanuatu.
“Ben was a fantastic player and a leader on the court and now it’s great to see him continue to inspire those around him off the court,” Toohey said.
“As part of the OFC Futsal Coach Educator team he has recently been mentoring the coaches in Vanuatu who are trying to gain their OFC Futsal C Licence.
“This is important work because all over Oceania we are trying to improve the futsal environment and lift the standard of coaching and level of competition in our leagues.
“Having someone of Ben’s stature as part of the group is fantastic, because he brings with him a lot of playing experience, knowledge and ideas.”
Against the odds, and despite a number of setbacks, futsal in Oceania has managed to flourish and if border restrictions ease, we can look forward to a bright future in 2021.
The Solomon Islands are set to attend the rescheduled FIFA Futsal World Cup in Lithuania in September and OFC is planning to host top international futsal teams to play in next year’s Oceania Futsal Invitational tournament.
In the past two years, Toohey has overseen the implementation of a proposed new schedule for futsal tournaments within the Pacific.
Ideally, OFC will hold their senior men’s Invitational tournament every four years, beginning in 2021, with the OFC Futsal Nations Cup to run on the same cycle with the next instalment due in 2023.
A youth event will also be played every two years to provide development opportunities.