Sunday 06 August 2023, 04:00

FIFA President visits FIFA Forward development projects in Vanuatu

  • Gianni Infantino plays football with FIFA and Ni-Vanuatu legends at the Freshwater Stadium

  • The home of Vanuatu’s national sides was constructed with the help of FIFA Forward funding

  • Football development at the heart of discussions with Vanuatu’s political leaders

Gianni Infantino has visited Vanuatu and discussed the country’s football development with senior officials, including Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau and FIFA Vice-President and Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) and Vanuatu Football Federation (VFF) President Lambert Maltock. The FIFA President highlighted the need for further collaboration between FIFA, OFC, VFF and the Ni-Vanuatu government to secure more land for new football facilities both within and outside the capital Port Vila. “We will invest together, we will work together, we need the land as we were discussing with the Minister, and we will build because we want to give opportunities and chances for all children, all girls and all boys in Vanuatu, to shine,” said Mr Infantino following a meeting with Vanuatu’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jotham Napat. “We see now there is a (FIFA) Women’s World Cup going on in New Zealand and Australia. This is the World Cup of the whole of Oceania, the whole of the Pacific, and that’s why we are here with the official ball of that Women’s World Cup, because it has to be an inspiration to all women but also to all men and girls and boys that football is a possibility, is a way.”

The Teouma Academy has already been working towards producing more top-class Ni-Vanuatu footballers and, in the hope of giving budding players an example to follow, Mr Infantino officially renamed it the Brian Kaltak Academy after the A League-winning Central Coast Mariners defender, the first player from the island nation to turn professional. Mr Infantino led a ceremony at a pitch named in honour of the late Ni-Vanuatu former OFC Vice-President Johnny Tinsly Lulu as the country, ranked 165th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Men’s World Ranking and 122nd in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking, seeks to develop its standing in the global game. To this end, Vanuatu has also applied to be part of FIFA’s Talent Development Scheme led by FIFA Chief of Global Development Arsène Wenger, which will bring FIFA coaching expertise to the region.

The FIFA President then unveiled the ‘King Pelé Football Field’, to make the Pacific Island nation the first in the region to follow up on his suggestion to honour the late Brazilian legend, who passed away on 29 December 2022. To cap a busy day, Ni-Vanuatu legends of the national side - that finished second in the 1998 Melanesian Cup and defeated New Zealand 4-2 in the 2004 OFC Nations Cup - then joined the FIFA President and the FIFA Legends on the pitch at the Freshwater Stadium, the home of Vanuatu’s national sides which was constructed with the help of USD 4.15 million in FIFA Forward funding, and is the bedrock on which the VFF hopes to build to raise standards across the country.

“There are some programmes that help us, allow us to concentrate more on football [people],” said Mr Maltock who hopes to launch a professional OFC league in two years’ time. “Develop them, let them become licensed coaches and we can improve the level of the programme. Just as we are developing football from the grassroots level, the national league, we are building something big. It's not just about building infrastructure, but also further developing and raising the standard of our football.” “There's a clear pathway plan, preparing them so that by 2025, we have everything in place for them to potentially become professional players, players who are from Oceania. So, we have a very intensive programme to ensure that we can really become a source [of talent] for professional clubs. To do that, we must be strong and competitive in order to really be a support for youth development.”