Thursday 06 October 2022, 13:00

Tonga plays host as Football for Schools arrives in the Pacific

  • Football for Schools debuts in the Oceanian region

  • FIFA Legend Yakubu Ayegbeni made the long trip to Polynesia to participate

  • Tonga FA hosted the three-day programme at their headquarters

FIFA Legend Yakubu Ayegbeni was on hand as the Pacific's first-ever FIFA Football for Schools programme took place in Tonga this week. The Tonga Football Association [TFA] laid out a typically warm Polynesian welcome for the FIFA delegation during the three-day event at the TFA headquarters on Tongatapu, the major island of 45 separate inhabited parts of the Kingdom. FIFA’s Football for Schools is a mass participation programme that aims to contribute to the education, development and empowerment of boys and girls. Among the anticipated outcomes are making football more accessible to children by incorporating football activities into the education system, helping facilitate the learning of life skills and demonstrating the social benefits of football, not only for the young participants, but also their communities. The latter aspect is particular pertinent in Tonga - and other parts of the Pacific - where family and community are central to daily life. The TFA have built an increasingly strong presence in Tongan society over recent years. It was no surprise, therefore, that a large turnout was on hand as Tonga became the first of 11 OFC nations to partake in the programme.

Following on from an OFC/FIFA Football for Schools Programme regional workshop in Auckland last week, 20 coach educators learned the requisite skills in a capacity building course at the TFA headquarters on Monday and Tuesday. A day later 120 children took part in a festival, an event highlighted by the participation of Nigeria 2010 FIFA World Cup™ striker Ayegbeni, a figure who proved popular with the children both on and off the pitch. The programme will initially be embedded in 10 local schools before expanding to 40. FIFA Football for Schools Consultant Antonio Buenaño Sánchez, who has been present in Tonga this week said: “Football for Schools is a project that has been part of FIFA for almost three years, but unfortunately due to the pandemic only resumed at the end of 2021. Tonga is the first Member Association in the Pacific region to launch the programme. “Football for schools connect life skills together with football content and the main goal is to educate children through the positive messages that can be learnt in a football session. Life skills such as respect, teamwork, communication and fair play are key, both on the pitch and off the pitch. “The idea is that kids become familiar with these values from an early age because they may not become professional football players, but all of them will be the future citizens of the country.”