The introduction of futsal to Tonga’s Vava’u island group has been embraced by the community of Holeva, with both their U-8 and U-12 teams winning their categories at the first-ever Just Play Fun Festival Tournament 2021.

The competition launched in April, running in parallel to the delivery of Just Play’s Health & WASH curriculum in the local communities and schools, and aimed at putting the learnings of the week into practice.

Thirty-two teams signed up to participate in the eight-week event which was held at Vava’u High School, with Holeva just one of the communities joining in the Just Play Programme for the first time.

Earning their respective titles with narrow victories in the final, the U-8s triumphed over ‘Utui 5-4, while the U-12 defeated Okoa 4-3 to ensure two trophies headed back to their community.

Holeva coach Pulupaki Finau said it was a proud day for the team who have embraced the challenge of learning a new skills, new rules and a new sport in futsal.

“This is the first time for our community to win a tournament in any sport and it’s been a pleasure for me and the people of the village to see how amazing and talented our children are during this tournament,” Finau said.

“I am very proud and happy for my team and the great achievement they made. From the good result, I am willing to keep encouraging these children to get involved in any programme about soccer, and to support them so that they may have good opportunities for their future lives.”

The tournament’s success was based not only being able to offer a place to implement the futsal skills they children had learned during their Just Play sessions, but to provide a fun and enjoyable experience that would have them coming back for more.

That success was apparent in the reaction from Holeva’s U-12 team captain: “I am very happy, together with my teammates, for winning this fun tournament, and this motivates me to love football”.

Tournament coordinator, Soane Malia Mailangi said the 16 communities were all supportive and encouraging of the young participants, including those who didn’t make the Top-8 playoffs.

“The eight week tournament went well and parents, friends and the community were very encouraging to the children during the games. Not only that, the coaches empowered the children to play and do their best even no matter if they win or lose,” he said.

The Just Play Programme in Tonga is supported by the New Zealand Government, the Australian Government through Australian Aid and Team Up, the UEFA Foundation for Children, UNICEF, Football Australia and the Tongan Government through the Ministries of Health and Education.