Futsal has debuted in the northern island group of Vava’u in Tonga thanks to a collaboration between the Tonga Football Association’s Technical and Just Play departments.
On Saturday, the first-ever tournament-based futsal festival got underway at Vava’u High School hall with an impressive 32 teams signed up to participate in the eight-week event.
Vava’u Football Association Manager, Manatu Liava’a said the local community is excited to be learning more about futsal and developing skills in a game which suits the smaller island group communities.
“Introducing futsal in Vava’u is a new era for football here in the island and we are excited and motivated to join in an promote the game,” Liava’a said.
“We believe we can manage to play the game even though it’s new and we are expecting a fun and enjoyable futsal tournament in Vava’u.
“I’m so overwhelmed to see big numbers of children come along in this programme. One of Vava’u’s development pillars is to ensure that the people of Vava’u do not lack in any aspect of life.
“I believe that’s one of the reasons why we had 600-plus children participate today, to see what the game is all about, how it is played and to play and enjoy futsal.”
The incorporation of the small-sided game into the newest Health and WASH curriculum has been led by TFA Futsal Instructor and Development Officer, Manu Tualau with the full support of Just Play Programme Manager Palu Uhatahi-Tu’amoheloa and her team.
The Just Play Programme is being delivered in 16 local communities, following the successful training of volunteers earlier this month, with the weekly sessions providing the basic futsal skill training.
Each session couples games with themed social messages, with week one covering “Fruits and Vegetables Every Day”.
Tualau said the festival-tournament provides an opportunity to reinforce not only the skills learned during the week, but to emphasise the key themes and messages.
Taking the Just Play Programme and futsal to Vava’u is part of the Tonga Football Association’s wider strategy to increase participation and make football a game for all across the nation.
Uhatahi-Tu’amoheloa said: “As we are focusing on promoting healthy lifestyles here in Tonga, we wish to reach out not just to the children within the main island, but the outer islands as well.
“Just Play has been on the ground for 11 years now and we would like to ensure the programme continues to impact on the lives of our younger generations, but would also like to see futsal grow too,” she said.
Uhatahi-Tu’amoheloa added her delight at being in Vava’u to witness the enjoyment of futsal and the Just Play Programme first-hand.
“It is so obvious that these children will participate in any sports, such as our programme. I’ve realised these children just come out of their shells and break the barriers of confusion during this pandemic period,” she said.
“Making the effort to come leads me to the need for further discussions with the TFA Competition department for more assistance as futsal would be another great game for Vava’u.”
Tonga proved their mettle in the small-sided game when they made their first FIFA tournament appearance at the Youth Olympic Games in 2018.
A number of former Just Play graduates were named in the squad, including captain Seini Lutu, which played three matches against Spain, Bolivia and Trinidad and Tobago.