Football and resilience in St. Kitts and Nevis' DNA
The Global Game series turns spotlight on St. Kitts and Nevis
Great passion for football on the smallest sovereign state in Western Hemisphere
Football has overtaken cricket as the most popular sport
Resilience is embedded in the DNA of St. Kitts and Nevis. The first form of football played on the Caribbean island by natives was by enslaved men who used the inflated bladder of killed animals as a ball since they could not be in possession of a real ball. With that history and context in mind, it is no wonder why resilience is part of the Kittitian and Nevisian way.
The St. Kitts and Nevis Football Association (SKNFA) was established back in 1932, so there is a long and proud history of organised football on the island. After being a part of the Leeward Islands Football Association in 1948, followed by the Caribbean Football Union in 1979, St. Kitts and Nevis became a member of Concacaf and FIFA in 1992, nine years after the island gained independence, becoming the most recent British Territory in the Caribbean to do so.
“For years football shared the spotlight with cricket as the main sport, but more recently from the 1980s through the present time, football has emerged as the number one sport that is played and watched here,” SKNFA General Secretary Stanley Jacobs told FIFA.com.
The development of the game has gone from strength to strength. Financial support from FIFA and Concacaf has helped develop the sport on the island from the grassroots level up. Particularly notable was the St. Kitts and Nevis women’s national team’s first-ever participation in the Concacaf Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship back in January of this year.
“We are extremely proud of the rapid growth of our women’s football development programme, which we started less than ten years ago,” Jacobs said. “There are more girls getting involved in the sport, and I believe the success of the senior women’s team and U-20 women’s team will attract even more young girls to play football and we are hoping that will be the legacy of those teams.”
The success is extraordinary when taking into account that the population of the entire island is just over 52,000, or the capacity of Newcastle United’s St James’ Park. About ten per cent (5,000) of the population actively and regularly play football in competitive environments.
“Football is very important in the lives of the people of St. Kitts and Nevis,” Jacobs said. “It goes way beyond entertainment. It’s a passion.
"We don’t have a professional league. It’s an amateur league, but they play for pride, community, bragging rights and its roots and traditions go back over 80 years. When a community wins the championship, the entire community’s spirits are lifted and they have a sense of joy and camaraderie.”
Spirits were understandably low when league competitions were forced to shut down for seven to eight months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the resilience of the people has shown through once again. Thanks to the COVID-19 Relief Fund, the senior and youth leagues are due to be completed in the middle of December.
“The players wanted to return to the field of play," said Jacobs. "A lot of them lost jobs and were affected by the pandemic, so football was a bright spot for them."