Thursday, April 22, 2010
Dozens of kids erupting into a spontaneous game of football, cavorting through the rain-soaked fields at Lakatoro as the heavens opened.
That was the lasting impression for an OFC delegation who departed Vanuatu’s outer island of Malakula yesterday after a successful launch of the Just Play grassroots programme.
It was a fitting end to the day with the impromptu kick-about embodying the very premise of the Just Play programme: football can be played anywhere, anytime by anyone.
Fortunately the sun was out at the start of the day as Malakula locals gathered to welcome distinguished guests including OFC President Reynald Temarii, Vanuatu Football Federation (VFF) President Lambert Maltock, and Third Secretary of the Australian High Commissioner Kala Heinemann among others who had made the hour-long plane trip that morning.
With arms linked and smiles beaming, the children formed two lines stretching the length of the field to make a passageway through which visitors were ushered onto the complex. A prayer from the local minister marked the start of formalities before President Maltock gave the opening address.
“Welcome to this momentous opening of the Just Play programme here in the humble centre of Malakula,” said President Maltock, who grew up on the tiny island in Malampa Province. “I would like to take this opportunity to thank OFC and its partners for making this grassroots initiative possible.”
Just Play was developed by OFC in consultation with the Australian Government – through its agencies the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) – as well as Football Federation Australia (FFA) to promote physical activity for primary-aged children while encouraging community involvement and healthy living.
A pilot project began in Tonga late last year but Vanuatu marks the official launch, complete with brand new equipment such as balls, cones, bibs, whistles and a manual with guidelines for 12 practical sessions to assist instructors.
With Head of Social Responsibility Franck Castillo and Just Play Technical Coordinator Colin Tuaa at the helm, the programme will be replicated across the Pacific Islands over the next three years and is expected to involve more than 200,000 children, 4000 teachers and volunteers and around 2,500 primary schools.
As representative of the Australian High Commission, Kala Heinemann emphasized Australia’s backing of the project.
“Australia is a proud supporter of sports initiatives in Vanuatu and across the Pacific Islands. The Pacific has a lot of sporting potential and we want to help countries reach that potential so it makes sense for us to support programmes like Just Play. Above all, we see that this initiative will benefit communities and that is why we are proud to be associated with it,” said Heinemann.
OFC President and FIFA Vice-President Reynald Temarii went on to outline the key themes of Just Play and thanked all stakeholders for their involvement.
“The aim of Just Play is to promote sports within schools. We will be sure to achieve a successful programme so that kids can enjoy their lives through football but also become good citizens to build your beautiful country,” said President Temarii.
“Acknowledging the hard work of the OFC staff, I also wish to express my sincere gratitude to our invaluable project partners: UEFA and the Australian Government. And finally I would like to thank President Lambert who helps to ensure that football programmes reach not only those living in Port Vila, but also people from the outer islands.”
Following the official opening of Just Play, the Lakatoro field became a hive of activity as around 300 kids rotated through drills and games with plenty of laughter along the way.
Watching the activities was Provincial Education Officer Renjo Samuel who gave a local perspective of what the programme would mean for his community.
“I am very glad that the Just Play has come to our province. I think it will help with social skills and teach the children to become disciplined in terms of their sport, their schoolwork and the way they approach life generally. We believe active children are healthy and happy children.”
Cloud cover slowly drifted over the village to give everyone a respite from the heat before guests enjoyed the traditional drinking of cava and a colourful array of local cuisine with fresh fish, coconut and sweet grapefruit in abundance.
Finally, there was an exchange of gifts, a traditional prayer and a ‘three cheers’ to conclude the memorable occasion. The delegation drove away to the sight of kids running out for one more game in the downpour – proof that grassroots football is alive and well in Vanuatu.