The 55th Ordinary FIFA Congress announced the admission of East Timor and Comoros on Monday 12 September 2005. One year after New Caledonia, who joined at the Paris Congress in 2004, two new islands now enter into the family of world football. And in terms of geography, economics, politics and the state of football in their respective countries, there are many similarities between the 206th and 207th members of FIFA.
East Timor, the 206th member of FIFA
Comoros, the 207th member of FIFA
To begin with, football is the major sport in both Comoros and East Timor (check out our portraits of the two new associations). It enjoys an immense prestige in both countries and a large percentage of the population play the game. And if the rare matches played against their regional neighbours are anything to go by, the level of technique in the two nations is already significant.
As popular as it is, though, the development of football in FIFA's latest member associations suffers from a want of facilities. The absence of adequate pitches is one problem, but perhaps the largest and most pressing issue is the lack of a national stadium, making building work in Moroni and Dili a huge priority. Likewise, domestic championships exist in both countries but are more or less embryonic and are in need of an extensive organisational overhaul. The relative poverty of the two governments means central assistance for the game is sadly wanting, however, and the presidents of the local associations Salim Tourki (Comoros) and Francisco Kalbualdi (East Timor) have often had to dip into their own pockets to help fund tournaments.
Beyond the state of football, Comoros and East Timor also share certain geographical similarities. For a start, both are small island nations and are fairly remote on their respective continents. Indeed, Comoros has a surface area of a little less than Luxembourg, and is situated off the coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean, while East Timor is 15,000 km² in total (about the same as Kuwait) and can be found close to Australia in south-east Asia. Population figures are comparable too, with East Timor home to a million inhabitants and Comoros 670,000. And the quality of life is fairly precarious in the two countries as well, as almost 60% of Comorans live below the poverty line and 45% of East Timorans are in the same situation.
That economic hardship can be partly explained by the political difficulties both nations have experienced in their quest for autonomy. For example, it is interesting to note that Comoros and East Timor only gained their independence in 1975. It is just 30 years since French rule finally came to an end in Comoros, but there have been no fewer than 19 coups d'états in the intervening period.
The situation in East Timor is more distressing still. Nine days after the Portuguese pulled out in 1975, Indonesian forces invaded the eastern part of the island. Their presence was never recognised by the United Nations and never accepted by the population, many hundreds of thousands of whom died during the occupation. It finally came to an end in 2002, when the country could at last enjoy its second birth as an independent political entity.
With all that in mind, it is reasonable to think that joining FIFA could represent a significant step in the short histories of both Comoros and East Timor. Recognition on the international stage should not be underestimated, but on an economic level the two nations are now eligible to sign up to the Goal programme, request financial assistance and benefit from other FIFA initiatives to put a lasting infrastructure in place. There is a symbolic importance that comes with membership too, best summed up by president Joseph S. Blatter when he spoke of, "giving a little hope and happiness to young people who need to believe in the future."