Friday 29 September 2023, 07:00

Tahiti's Festival of the Islands is back with a bang

  • After a three-year absence, the Festival of the Islands returned to Tahiti

  • 1,200 participants played across three disciplines: 11-a-side football, Beach Soccer and Futsal

  • Gianni Infantino: "Football is a vehicle for social cohesion. It unites the world and Polynesia."

In July, while all eyes were on Australia and New Zealand for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™, another huge football festival was in full swing on a neighbouring Pacific Island. After a three-year absence, the ‘Festival of the Islands’ returned to Tahiti and the long-awaited event lived up to all its promise. The entire Tahitian football family gathered in Pīraʻe for the 12th edition of this competition, from 17 to 22 July. No fewer than 1,200 participants - men and women, young and old - from 23 Polynesian islands, took part in the event. Some travelled four hours by plane to get there, while others came by boat, a spectacular effort considering the journey almost takes one week.

"It's great to be relaunching the Festival des Îles this year," enthused Moeama Mu Greig, General Manager of the Tahitian Football Federation, to local media. "It's an event that means a lot to football fans, especially on the islands, where some teams were preparing very seriously. It's a bit like their World Cup, and they're right. It's their competition." In any case, the competition is unique. Over and above the extraordinary atmosphere that traditionally reigns there, the event has the particularity of bringing together three different disciplines: football (11-a-side), Beach Soccer and Futsal. Tahiti has always sought to build bridges between these three disciplines. On numerous occasions, the same Tahitian player has taken part in FIFA competitions in both Beach Soccer and 11-a-side football.

On a visit to Tahiti to meet Moetai Brotherson, President of French Polynesia, and to inaugurate a new pitch financed through FIFA Forward, FIFA President Gianni Infantino was invited to take part in the inauguration festivities. "There's something special about these islands and this magnificent country. I'm delighted to be here," he told local television. "Attending this magnificent opening ceremony of the Festival of the Islands, a Festival in which more than 1,000 players, boys and girls, men and women, are taking part to determine who is the best, of course, but above all to spend some time together, as friends, thanks to sport and football in particular, is heart-warming for me as FIFA President," he added.

The final results seem purely anecdotal compared to the happiness generated by the festival for participants and spectators alike. However, the name of the winning team in the Futsal tournament will be remembered: Rapa. Hailing from the most remote of Tahiti's islands, Rapa qualified to represent the country at the next OFC Futsal Nations Cup in New Zealand from 1 to 7 October 2023.

Football, a vehicle for social cohesion

Like Rapa, Ua Pou - a tiny territory in the Marquesas archipelago - were crowned U-13 champions, a category newly introduced at the Festival of the Islands. Proof that whatever the age, discipline, or geographical remoteness, all the islands of Tahiti and Polynesia have embraced the sport.

"The idea is really to bring people together through sport. Sport, whether we're talking about football or not, is often a way of discovering common ground, exchanging ideas, and coming together," explains Thierry Ariiotima, President of the Tahitian Football Federation (FTF). "Football is about meeting people and sharing ideas in a friendly atmosphere, but it's also about inspiring young people to take up sport.” In the words of the FIFA President: “Football is a vehicle for social cohesion. It unites the world and Polynesia."