Wednesday 17 April 2024, 09:00

Combatting climate change a key focus at the FIFA Infrastructure & Facilities Maintenance Workshop

  • The two-day workshop was held in Port Moresby with 10 OFC members in attendance

  • A holistic approach on key public service elements for football development a key focus

  • Climate change is the single greatest threat facing all countries in the Pacific

  • FIFA and the Pacific Islands Forum signed an MoU in April 2022.

As part of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between FIFA and the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea hosted the FIFA Infrastructure & Facilities Maintenance Workshop on 9-10 April 2024.

The two-day workshop was an important initiative within the framework of the MoU signed in April 2022. It focused on the need for member associations to take a holistic, long-term approach in developing its football infrastructure, necessitating the development of infrastructure strategies and tailored maintenance plans to ensure that all facilities are compliant, fit-for-purpose, replete with a strong public service focus on components such as sustainability, inclusivity, accessibility and safeguarding.

Climate change is the single greatest threat facing all countries in the Pacific, with multiple menaces and challenges facing the region. According to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a 1.5°C rise will submerge 4% of Earth's terrestrial land area and adversely impact the Pacific region’s very survival.

“Our country is an island nation in which we have about 999 islands. One of the challenges that our country faces in regard to climate change is the erosion of land, because of the level of sea rising,” said Leonard Paia, General Manager of Solomon Islands Football Federation. “We lost a lot of our beaches, especially the ones where we used to build beach football pitches for our communities in rural areas and that has really affected our football development.”

Oceania has the highest disaster risk mainly due to its high exposure to extreme natural events and the rise in sea level. Economic losses from cyclones and flooding in the South Pacific region in 2020 amounted to around USD 1 billion. Similarly, an annual average loss of GDP of 14.4% is experienced by Pacific Island countries due to these disasters.

From a football sense, these challenges impact football development in both a practical and an economic way, with high costs in relation to elevation of pitches, strengthening of roofs and buildings, the choice of materials, and water reticulation.

It is common for nations in this region to suffer significantly in terms of damage to facilities and interrupted league seasons due to flooding, tidal waves, rising sea levels and erosion of land.

FIFA has worked together with MAs to rectify some of these issues and, under the FIFA Forward Programme since 2016, has invested a total of USD 21 million in infrastructure development into Oceania with sustainability and accessibility components embedded into the designs.

However, barriers and high costs will continue unless strategies and regulations can be implemented into a framework which MAs can implement and drive successfully in their own countries.

It is the aim of the workshop – which was attended by General Secretaries and Facilities Managers of 10 Oceania Member Associations – to result in greater stakeholder engagement to allow MAs to leverage all available support and maximise the positive impacts on the people, their region, and the environment.

During the workshop, Vanuatu Football Federation shared from experience, the partnership with the national government who granted them tax exemptions on imported materials for the Freshwater Stadium. These funds directly reinvested back into the project to ensure that the important elements of water reticulation, solar electrification and accessibility could be built into the stadium. Tonga Football Federation shared on their collaboration with government in formalising a process whereby their facilities could be utilised as evacuation centres in the case of the next disaster. Fiji FA underlined the importance of maintaining a strong financial framework and processes as part of their maintenance plan to ensure that facilities could continue to serve the game and its stakeholders.

Specifically, the workshop touched on facilities maintenance and highlighted the importance of safeguarding, sustainability, and accessibility. The FIFA support mechanisms available to MAs in terms of experts and specialists were also defined. As part of this, MAs have been given the tools to develop a robust maintenance strategy with a maintenance operational plan that is well-resourced and tailored to their needs.

“We ensure that all football infrastructure in Oceania adheres to the FIFA Climate Strategy as well as what is important with regard to PIF moving forward,” said Sanjeevan Balasingam, FIFA Director Member Associations Asia & Oceania. “Without proper pitches, without proper stadiums, without proper training centres, or headquarters, you can’t really develop the game to an optimum level.”