Port Vila, Vanuatu (10 July 2004) The bellow of the conch signals his arrival. The noble Ni-Vanuatu warriors, alerted by the blast rising above the jungle canopy, rush out to confront the intruder. Custom dictates that when a chief from another territory encroaches upon their land, he must be challenged upon entry. With the group menacingly brandishing their intricately carved staffs, the leader shouts at the top of his lungs, mere inches from the interloper's face.
But the intruder, "great chief" and FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter smiles serenely, as he comes in peace. Moreover, he comes in the name of Vanuatu's footballing future - to lay the cornerstone of a National Training Academy, the long-term dream of Vanuatu Football Federation (VFF) President Johnny Tinsley Lulu.
Satisfied that his intentions are pure, the warriors' demeanour changes dramatically as they form an honour guard for the President and break into a rhythmic dance and song of welcome. Escorting presidents Blatter and Lulu into the centre of the 23-acre site, they are joined by Vanuatu Interim Prime Minister Edward Nipake Natapei. Together they will pave the way for the construction of a football academy that will soon be the heart of an expert residential training programme intended to draw in talented youth from all the provinces of the Y-shaped chain of Melanesian islands and meld them into a group that can take the Vanuatu national team to the next level - a project financed and made possible by the FIFA Goal Programme.
The Vanuatu National Training Academy will incorporate an educational centre with accommodation, dining and locker room facilities for 30 players, and two natural turf fields. Zoned to be surrounded by primary and secondary schools as well as residential housing, the future Academy will become a bustling hub of activity 16 km outside of the capital of Port Vila.
Honoured the previous evening with the FIFA Centennial Order of Merit for his long-standing commitment to the development of football across Oceania, VFF President Lulu told those assembled for the ceremony, "Fifteen years ago I was in Europe and saw some of the training grounds that teams had at their disposal. I dreamt that one day Vanuatu too would benefit from such facilities. Today that dream is coming true, thanks to the Goal Programme and our honoured guest, the President of FIFA."
Scheduled for completion at the end of 2004, the Academy will be a major boost to the development of the beautiful game in Vanuatu, which has made major strides in recent years. The national teams of Vanuatu have been consistently improving their Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) status, a trend that culminated in their historic 4-2 victory over New Zealand in a OFC Nations' Cup/2006 FIFA World Cup™ second stage qualifying match that eliminated the heavily-fancied All-Whites from contention.
On the island nation, football is much more than just the number one sport - it is a burning passion of the Ni-Vanuatu. For proof of this, one needs to look no further than the rousing welcome from the entire village of Mele as they greeted the FIFA President following the groundbreaking ceremony. Dressed in team jerseys as a part of the Vanua-Kid Programme, the children could not hide their delight as President Blatter presented them with gifts of footballs and FIFA Fair Play t-shirts.
"Oceania is bursting with un-tapped talent," said the FIFA President. "By focusing Vanuatu's potential at the National Training Academy, there will be no limit to what they can achieve as players, and as human beings too. Football is a school of life and the Academy will further their sporting and personal lives. Hard work, discipline, respect and fair play: this is what the beautiful game teaches us."