Over the past week, the Confederation of Independent Football Associations (CONIFA) has been undertaking a member visit in the remote Pacific nation of Kiribati. This collection of 34 atolls, islands and reefs is incredibly picturesque, yet at the forefront of the threat posed by rising sea levels. CONIFA is eager to promote the development of football in Kiribati in partnership with the Kiribati Islands Football Association (KIFA).
KIFA joined CONIFA in May 2016, and is also an associate member of the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC). Kiribati is a United Nations member and has an extensive history of football, which began in the 1950s and has seen the national team compete at several Pacific Games. Kiribati is seemingly eligible for admission into Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), yet despite lodging a membership application with the OFC and FIFA in the early 2000s has not yet been admitted. CONIFA intends to work with KIFA over the coming year to advance this goal, establishing dialogue with the relevant bodies and ascertaining how the application can be progressed.
Football is the number one sport in Kiribati, despite a lack of available land limiting the number of full-sized pitches. Many kids grow up playing the game on the beach, and the technical abilities bestowed by this environment were evident in several matches observed by CONIFA in Kiribati. CONIFA’s visit coincided with the final days of KIFA’s Taiwan Sport Tournament, which brought together 60 teams from across Kiribati’s far-flung atolls. Given the lack of regular transportation links between many of the atolls, such participation was a remarkable feat and emphasised the love of football in Kiribati.
In addition to the sport’s intrinsic benefits, football has great potential to provide a positive health impact in Kiribati. The nation has a high rate of non-communicable diseases, and the promotion of sport is seen by many i-Kiribati as a way to address this health problem. During the visit, CONIFA met with the Australian High Commissioner, Mr Bruce Cowled, to discuss Australia’s development role in Kiribati. Australia currently funds a basketball initiative called Hoops for Health, and CONIFA is keen to build on such efforts to develop a similar program in the football sector.
After several years of inactivity, KIFA intends to reinvigorate the Kiribati national team. CONIFA held preliminary talks with KIFA about the team’s participation at forthcoming CONIFA tournaments, and these discussions will be continued at the CONIFA Annual General Meeting in January. CONIFA and KIFA hope to be able to confirm the team’s schedule for 2017/18 by early next year.
CONIFA’s visit was hosted by KIFA and its President, Mr Ioteba Redfern. CONIFA would like to thank Mr Redfern and his family for their generous hospitality, and all stakeholders in Kiribati who took the time to discuss football development with us. We look forward to working with KIFA to ensure a bright future for football in this beautiful part of the world.
During the visit, CONIFA created a new website for KIFA. To learn more about football in Kiribati, please see here.