Covering an area of 23,000 square kilometres and home to 830,000 people, the small east African nation of Djibouti has been a member of FIFA since 1994. It is little surprise then that the national team finds itself in the lower reaches of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, down in 202nd place to be exact.
Yet despite their modest global standing, Djibouti do not lack ambition, as Souleiman Hassan Waberi, the newly elected president of the country’s football association (the FDF), told FIFA.com on his visit to Zurich.
Elected to the post on 10 November last year, Waberi was accompanied at FIFA headquarters by FDF Secretary General Hassan Mohamed Kamil and the Secretary of State for Youth and Sport Dr Djama Elmi Okie.
“Our priority is the development of grassroots football,” said Waberi. “We have just signed an agreement with the country’s Ministry of Education and we will shortly be organising mixed inter-school tournaments. The aim is to have a competitive U-17 side in place by 2014, which is when we’ll also be hosting an U-17 CECAFA tournament.”
Though the task is a sizeable one, the objectives are clear: “Another goal is the development of women’s football, which isn’t very strong in our country. We’ll be setting up a championship and staging festivals.”
The FDF chief added: “We are also looking to nurture our own local men’s league, give our managers the training they need, develop futsal and beach soccer – a sport that’s ideally suited to our country – and improve our infrastructures in general. With the support of FIFA and the authorities, we are working hand in hand for the development of the game.”
Djibouti is set to launch its fourth Goal Project (a futsal court) and will also be applying for a fifth (an artificial pitch), which will be subject to the approval of the Development Committee. In a country as dry and arid as Djibouti, where playing on grass all year round is not feasible, artificial pitches are essential.
The east African nation will also reap the benefits of the PERFORMANCE programme, which will improve the day-to-day running of the FDF.
“We need resources for that to happen and that’s why FIFA’s support is necessary,” explained Waberi. “They’re not only helping us with the artificial pitches, but with the technical and financial side of things too. Our football association relies heavily on that support.”
Also in need of some solid backing are the national team. Le Riverains de la Mer Rouge, The Shoremen of the Red Sea, as they are known, have not played since December 2011 and have lost their last five matches. Ever the optimist, Waberi points to the success of other African minnows as an example for them to follow, such as Cape Verde Islands, who defied the odds in qualifying for the upcoming CAF Africa Cup of Nations:
“We don’t have the resources, and that’s why we’re making a start with grassroots football, so we can organise ourselves properly and not cut corners. I’m convinced that this way we’ll have an U-17 side that will be able to compete within the space of three year.”
Rounding off, Waberi pointed to his own career to illustrate just how successful a bottom-up strategy can be: “I started out on the lowest rung of the ladder, as a referee. Then I worked my way up to committee chairman, treasurer and assistant secretary general until I finally became the president of the FDF. I firmly believe that to get to the top you have to start at the bottom.”