Having not played a competitive match of football before his 11th birthday, a chance encounter with the Oceania Football Confederation’s Just Play programme set Nabil Begg on the path to becoming one of Fiji’s most promising teenage players.
Begg celebrated his 18th birthday the day before Fiji’s opening match of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ Oceania Qualifiers in Doha, with his rapid rise seeing him selected for the national squad while still attending high school.
Outside of games in the street and at school, Begg didn’t play football for the first 10 years of his life, before being encouraged to attend a Just Play Festival by his friend.
“I used to play in the village and it was only when my father got transferred for work that one of my friends said to me that there was a Just Play programme on at the Fiji Football Association Academy,” Begg said.
“It ran for one week during the holidays. I remember doing some passing and small-sided games. It was a fun day. I went and tried it out and we did some dribbling exercises and different stations.
“From there Aunty Lia (a local Just Play coordinator) told me to go out and try out for U-12 training at a local club.
“It was late in the year and they had already confirmed the team, so the next year I played with Labasa and we won the U-12 Inter-District Championship.
“If it wasn’t for Just Play I probably would have started playing much later and maybe wouldn’t be here right now.”
OFC Head of Social Responsibility Michael Armstrong said Just Play plays an important role in introducing people to the game, whether they go on to be national team stars or simply enjoy the game at a grassroots level.
“Just Play implements a life-long love of football,” Armstrong said.
“Nabil is an inspiring example of what can be achieved when all children have the chance to play.”
OFC Social Responsibility Programme Manager Supriya Kulkarni-Padhye said Begg’s story can be an example for others.
“We believe that every child has the potential to achieve their dreams both on and off the pitch,” Kulkarni-Padhye said.
“Nabil is a testament to that and we wish him all the best in Qatar.”