Tuvalu, a tiny archipelago of just 26 square kilometres and approximately 12,000 inhabitants, have been independent since 1978. And despite finding themselves in the centre of a region where the sport of rugby is king, on Tuvalu it is football that reigns supreme. It is for this precise reason that Tapugao Falefou, President of the Tuvalu Football Association, is so intent on helping his association to gain membership of world football's governing body, an objective that has the full support of the island's Prime Minister, Apisai Ielemia. FIFA.com took the opportunity to speak to both men during their visit to the Home of FIFA.
FIFA.com: Mr Prime Minister, Mr President, can you outline the reasons for your visit to FIFA headquarters?
Apisai Ielemia (AI): I've been in Brussels to unveil an assignment for the European Union, and I'm taking advantage to make a detour and drop into Zurich and accompany Mr Tapugao Falefou on his visit to FIFA.
Tapugao Falefou (TF): We're here to discuss our candidature for joining FIFA, and having the Prime Minister with us is a real stroke of luck. We've been associated members of the OFC since last year, so joining FIFA is the next step.
Tell us about the state of the game in Tuvalu.
TF: First of all, it's the No1 sport there, almost everybody plays! Our season lasts between February and October. The Premier League consists of nine clubs. This year we've made a start on counting the number of people playing the game, but it's a tricky task and it must be understood that our Association relies totally on volunteer workers. We would need several full-time employees.
AI: As far as the national team is concerned, we've taken part in the qualifying round for the South Pacific Games, which also stand as the first phase of preliminary qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. We're still learning, but we can't be satisfied with our results: we got off to a really bad start against Fiji (16-0), though we went on to only lose 1-0 against New Caledonia, after keeping them at bay for half the game, and then we got a draw against Tahiti (1-1). They are two strong Pacific sides so it's a good omen.
How would joining FIFA help?
TF: We could make our football more professional. For example, at the moment we can't afford to pay for a coach for our national team. If we had one, I'm sure we'd make a great deal of progress.
AI: We've wanted to be part of FIFA since 1987. We've been part of the United Nations since September 2000. In a way, the next stage is to become a part of the big footballing family.