Five thousand children across one city hosting eight teams from five seperate nations and the arrival of a former FIFA World Cup winner helped make the opening day of the OFC U-12 Festival of Football a memorable one.
Saint Theresa school, Ward Strip Demonstration school, Sacred Heart, Port Moresby Grammar, Saint Francis school were amongst the hosts as teams from New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu were greeted with a cacophany of singing and cultural performances that communictaed the spirit of football.
OFC President Reynald Temarii was ecstatic with the turn-out and spoke of his hopes for the OFC U-12 Festival of Football, “This is an important step for these children in their educational development to see the unifying power of football to unite different cultures. It is in the competitive spirit, of course, but it shows them the beauty and wonder of community understanding that this great game of ours can nuture and grow.”
Children at the Saint Theresa School welcomed the Solomon Islands to their schoolyard with a raft of performances that brought to life the sounds and voices of the Papua New Guinea provinces and highlands with the Solomon Islands Katukatu performend their “Awebuke Dance” to the delight of youngsters gathered.
Solomon Islands team official Francis Pituvaka said his team enjoyed the event immensely. “Oh, the boys were really when we arrived they saw how the school was preparing to meet them and they became very excited.
I believe from what happened tooday it wil be a big thing to tell their friends and family and presented items to them. The impression I got was the day served its purpose.
Its not just about the competition, it was gained by mixing with the Papua New Guinea kids and Saint Theresa kids.”
When the formalities were over Saint Theresa and Solomon Island kids mixed and mingled freely with the host school charmed by listening to the Katukatu team speaking Solomon Islands pidgin.
Francis Pituvaka describes the subtle differences, “Solomon Islands pidgin is more or less broken English; PNG pidgin, some of the words are a bit different, but we can understand. Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and PNG – when we are togtether we speak our own pidgin but we can still communicate. It is the same on the football pitch…with the way we like to play!”
The OFC U-12 Festival of Football welcomed the arrival of Christian Karembeu who told a press conference at Jackson International Airport that the value of the festival was critical to spreading the popularity of the game Pacific-wide.
“When I was 12 years old I had no opportunity to play in a tournament like the OFC U-12. For me, it was much later and more difficult to get my chance to play at international level. A tournament like this was only a dream for me.
The benefit of this tournament is the kids can learn about each others culture and play for the love of the game. Maybe at this tournament in years to come we will see the next Cahill or Vahirua. This for me is an exciting prospect,” Karembeu said.
The OFC U-12 Festival of Football Opening Ceremony takes place at the Port Moresby Rugby League Stadium at 8:45am local time with OFC President Reynald Temarii joined by the Ambassador for France Patrick Boursin, PNGFA President David Chung as well as representatives from the United Nations and Papua New Guinea Government Minister for Social and Community Development Dame Carol Kidu.
The tournament proper begins at 11:00am local time. The full schedule of matches reads:
11:00am Solomon Islands vs. Papua New Guinea 3
11:00am Papua New Guinea 1 vs. Vanuatu
11:30am Papua New Guinea 2 vs. Papua New Guinea 4
11:30am New Caledonia vs. New Zealand
2:00pm Solomon Islands vs. Papua New Guinea 1
2:00pm Papua New Guinea 3 vs. Vanuatu
2:30pm Papua New Guinea 2 vs. New Caledonia
2:30pm Papua New Guinea 4 vs. New Zealand
An OFC Press Conference will take place at 12:00pm at the Port Moresby Holiday Inn in the Restaurant Patio featuring all dignitaries listed above.