Wednesday 29 November 2023, 20:00

Football for Schools scores in Fiji

  • Launched in August 2023, Football for Schools has been a success in Fiji

  • The project has received key support from local authorities

  • A capacity-building seminar was held on the island between 26-28 November

Rugby plays a significant role in Fiji. This was never more evident than in recent weeks, with the national team reaching the quarter finals of the Rugby World Cup. Football however was not outshone. In fact, never have so many children in Fiji played with the round ball…and not by chance.

Last August, in the presence of FIFA President Gianni Infantino, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Fiji Football Association and the government to launch Football for Schools. The aim of the programme is to make football more accessible to young people by integrating football activities into the education system. Thirty-two schools took part in this pilot project and to-date, it has been a complete success.

"Football for Schools is really changing lives in Fiji," says Antonio Buenaño Sánchez, FIFA Football for Schools Manager. "In a country where opportunities for children are limited, the programme brings hope to the youngest and changes the mentality of the oldest," he explained. Four months after the launch of the program in Fiji, Buenaño Sánchez was back on the island between 26-28 November to lead a capacity-building workshop attended by primary school teachers, development officers from the Fiji Sports Commission and members of the Fiji Football Association's technical department. The focus of this workshop was to build on the project’s initial success, to ensure it is sustainable longer-term.

The ultimate goal is to ensure all 736 primary schools in the country implement Football for Schools. Furthermore, all schools must provide access to a football pitch, large or small. If this goal is reached, 150,000 Fijian schoolchildren, boys, and girls alike, will benefit from the programme.

The manifold social, educational, and physical benefits of Football for Schools are helping to bind the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Youth and Sport, and the Fiji Football Association together in collaboration. Designed to promote targeted life skills and values through football, the programme addresses issues such as gender equality, healthy lifestyles, and inclusiveness. These are all themes that Fiji has emphasised in its own social development project, which focuses on the role of women in society, complementing the Fiji Football Association’s increasing focus on women’s football.

"When all the stakeholders work together and cooperate, social change is possible," says Buenaño Sánchez. "In this respect, Fiji is truly a model for other member associations in the region.”

Fiji recently sprang a surprise by qualifying for the forthcoming FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup for the first time in its history. There is no shortage of talent on the island, which in future will be harnessed even further thanks to Football for Schools, which works hand in hand with FIFA's Talent Development Programme.

"It was fantastic to be able to welcome the technical expert and head of the programme, Antonio Buenaño Sanchez, to Fiji for three days to train the 40 or so selected participants," enthused Timo Jankowski, Technical Director of the Fiji Football Association. "This will help us to achieve our goal of reaching all primary schools in Fiji by 2027. In the meantime, the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Colombia 2024™ will have taken place, creating another chapter in our Fijian football story.”