Beach soccer has a rich and proud tradition in Vanuatu with three runners-up and a third place finish at Oceania level between 2006 and 2013.
And there is renewed excitement about the future of the popular sand-based game thanks to a fresh long-term vision and development strategy in the Melanesian country.
Following a six-year hiatus, Vanuatu’s beach soccer programme made a triumphant return in 2019 with the establishment of the country’s first permanent pitch at Port Vila’s Korman Stadium.
A few months later, experienced coach Wilson Marango has assembled a technically well-equipped national side that finished fourth at the OFC Beach Soccer Nations Cup in 2019, following a hard-fought 8-7 extra time defeat to New Caledonia in the bronze medal match.
That tournament in Tahiti was a major stepping stone on the road to rejuvenate the football-mad Pacific nation’s beach soccer scene at grassroots, youth and senior level.
At the beginning of October the Vanuatu Football Federation (VFF) announced the revival of Port Vila’s beach soccer league with business houses for the remainder of 2020.
The competition at the Korman Beach Soccer Field is designed to lay the foundations for the start of an elite men’s beach soccer league next year in the nation’s capital.
VFF Beach Soccer Development Officer Joel Rarua said the 2020 Beach Soccer Business League Championship is a big boost for the game’s development.
“A total of 14 teams and 350 players registered to participate in the weekly competition, with the overall winners to be decided following the finals in December,” Rarua said.
“A number of quality former national players have returned to the sand, including Seimata Chilia, Koko Alick, Joe Pakoa and Simo Joseph and their participation helps to raise the profile of the league.
“Our main goal is to build our partnerships with the stakeholders, prepare our teams and players for an elite domestic competition in 2021 as well as future Oceania tournaments.”
Although the new competition is a significant milestone, Rarua also stressed the importance of a strategic grassroots and youth development plan in order to breath new life into the game in Vanuatu.
“We established a performance centre for youth beach soccer players and we provide regular, weekly training sessions for our under-15 players.
“Our long-term vision includes the roll out of a strategic youth beach soccer programme that will include school visits to promote and grow the popularity of the game.”
OFC Head of Football Development Paul Toohey was delighted with the progress the game has made in Vanuatu since 2019.
“It is great to see VFF and Joel building on the work commenced last year,” he said.
“Together with Korman Stadium they have created the demand for beach soccer in an accessible part of Port Vila and I am certain the game will go from strength to strength as more people in the community want to join in.
“OFC have been happy to support VFF and other Member Associations through our beach soccer development programme to ensure the equipment we provide is being put to great use all over the region.”