The youngest of FIFA's member associations, Comoros have made great strides since joining world football's governing body in 2005. In the intervening period the Comoran Football Association (FCF) has developed its basic infrastructures and harnessed new technologies, implementing a computer system for registering players only this summer. Despite the economic problems afflicting the country, Comoran football is progressing fast, giving the nation's youngsters an essential means of expressing themselves.
There are two images that perhaps best sum up the contrast between the brave new world of football in the Comoros and its problematic past. The first is a bumpy, muddy pitch covered in stones and short on grass, situated in a picture-postcard location overlooking the Indian Ocean. The second is a pristine, newly installed artificial surface that provides the country's players with the perfect stage to develop and hone their skills.
New facilities such as those are a clear indication of the FCF's efforts to develop the game, but as national football chief Salim Tourqui acknowledges, much still needs to be done. "We need to carry on upgrading pitches and improving the game here in the Comoros," explains Tourqui, who was elected President of the FCF some ten years ago. "We need to give our talented players the chance to express themselves. That's why we are so excited about the prospect of opening our football academy."
Nevertheless, Comoros have already come a long way since their admission to the FIFA family four years ago. In that time the FCF has introduced a raft of initiatives and enhanced its infrastructure, all with the support of FIFA, encapsulating the pioneering spirit of the slogan "If you do, FIFA does".
The national governing body now has fully operational administrative headquarters in addition to a national academy, the aforementioned artificial pitch (complete with international-standard spectator facilities), offices on each of its islands responsible for running the local leagues and a number of pitches that have been upgraded to meet the needs of the country's league championship. On top of all that FIFA has also donated more than 120,000 USD of equipment and adidas is providing a steady supply of footballs through the FIFA Goal Programme.
"We are the only sports association in the country with such a solid structure and that makes a tremendous difference," adds Tourqui. That structure was strengthened further earlier this year with the roll-out of a computer system featuring a player-registration database and generating player licences, a development made possible by the Win in Africa with Africa project.
Technical advances aside, there is little question that crucial progress is being made. For example, the player licences, which are compulsory for all players and directors of clubs competing in the country's first division, are more than mere pieces of plastic; they are identity documents in themselves.
"They (the player licences) are a vital tool in the professional management of the Comoran championship," explains Mshangama Monaward, the man responsible for running the system for the FCF. "Up to now teams could just turn up with any players they liked, and there was no way of checking whether they actually belonged to the club or not. These new licences cannot be falsified, though, and referees can stop unregistered players from taking the field."
More than 700 first division footballers have now received their licences, which are provided free of charge by the FCF for the first year, and there are plans to extend the initiative to lower divisions. "We've given them away to get players to adopt the system," explains Msahazi Soilihi, an administrator with the FCF. "Next year they will have to pay for the licence, however, and we are also planning some kind of sponsorship on the card, which will provide the association with another revenue stream."
These and similar plans are driving the development of the game in the Comoros, which has largely been dependent on support from FIFA up to now, support that has solely been given to football. "We don't have many resources here and we need all the assistance we can get. We get help from FIFA and from France and other foreign stakeholders too because football is an excellent way for young people here to avoid the pitfalls of crime, which is a temptation here because of the quality of life."
Whatever the future holds, the FCF can be proud of its achievements to date, which include the unprecedented development of infrastructures, the restructuring and streamlining of local leagues, the mobilisation of long-term funding and the creation of the conditions necessary to increase revenue. The national association can also take heart from the staging of Comoros' first ever official international match, a qualifier for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ against Madagascar on 17 November 2007.
Even so the country's footballing leaders are not ready to pat themselves on the back just yet, having set yet more objectives for the future, among them support for youth football, grassroots projects and continued improvement of infrastructures. Last but certainly not least, the FCF is also aiming to organise yet more international matches.
"The match against Madagascar was held on a magnificent artificial pitch and was organised in just the way you would expect an international game to be organised," says President Tourqui, clearly proud of his organisation's unstinting efforts. "That and the fact that we have new headquarters, a new academy and a new player registration system proves that Comoros has a place in world football. It's up to us now to continue our work and to climb up the FIFA rankings."