OFC’s Football Development department has been assisting the Kiribati Islands Football Federation (KIFF) with an aim to grow the game in the small Micronesian nation.

Football in Kiribati received a major boost following the Oceania Football Confederation’s decision to restart their Associate Membership and provide funding to both KIFF and Tuvalu Islands Football Association (TIFA) during the governing body’s Executive Committee meeting in February.

OFC General Secretary Franck Castillo was pleased to confirm that OFC President Lambert Maltock and the executive members have all recognised the importance of helping football development in Kiribati and Tuvalu.

“As Associate Members, KIFF and TIFA will be invited to take part in some of our development programmes and will receive technical assistance from OFC’s football division,” Castillo said.

In addition they will both receive up to NZD$30,000 grants for 2021 and 2022, including equipment and funds for capacity building activities and national team development.

The two football associations are also hoping their improved Associate Member status could lead to full OFC membership in the future.

If Kiribati and Tuvalu wish to be reclassified as Ordinary Members of OFC they will need to provide the OFC General Secretariat with detailed information regarding their constitution, their organisation and sporting infrastructure.

Currently part of the Confederation of Independent Football Associations (CONIFA) the love of football is palpable in these small island nations in the middle of the Pacific and the lure of returning to the fold of OFC activities and competitions is a major motivation.

However, the challenges for a small and isolated Pacific country such as Kiribati cannot be underestimated.

Covering 3.5 million square kilometres of ocean across 33 atolls at both sides of the equator, Kiribati has very few resources but a deep passion for football.

Almost half of the country’s 123,000 inhabitants reside in South Tarawa, the nation’s capital, where the absence of soil means the three full-sized pitches have no grass.

That doesn’t stop local boys and girls playing barefoot in small open areas of packed, hard coral dust, developing solid technical skills and ball control.

But things are changing and KIFF has a new strategic plan and vision to develop football with the help of OFC, which is more than happy to provide assistance.

OFC Head of Football Development Paul Toohey said his department was focused on working with KIFF to implement new activities in grassroots football, goalkeeping, women’s football, futsal and beach soccer.

“Our staff are delighted to be assisting Kiribati football communities with equipment and we are also poised to commence our online workshops to assist KIFF with capacity building,” he said.

“Throughout October and November we will be working with coaches, teachers and volunteers via a series of workshops in futsal and grassroots football.”

Since September, the OFC Referee department has also been facilitating online courses to assist the Kiribati’s officials in areas including Laws of the Game changes, handball and offside.

The OFC Referee department conducting an online course to assist Kiribati referees. Photo Credit: OFC Media

OFC Head of Refereeing Kevin Stoltenkamp praised the eagerness of the KIFF candidates.

“The Kiribati participants have been very enthusiastic with a very positive attitude to the education and training being provided to them.”