Football blooms in Moorea’s Polynesian paradise

16 Apr 2020
  • Moorea in French Polynesia boasts a thriving football scene

  • Island was the birthplace of Tahiti’s famed beach soccer side

  • Local club side recently featured at continental level

Tahiti has long been coveted as an idyllic tropical paradise. Located at the far edge of Oceania, midway between Australia and South America, it seems remote even by Pacific standards.

Head to the far end of Tahiti’s main island near the iconic surfing hotspot of Teahupo'o – slated to host the sport as part of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games – and one is looking out across thousands of miles of ocean with no landmass to be found before hitting South America.

Yet French Polynesia, which encompasses all the islands in the vicinity, offers even more remote football connections. Half an hour by boat from Tahiti’s capital Papeete sits Moorea, a stunning sight with its towering verdant green mountains and azure coloured reef abundant in sea life. Take the hour-long drive around the island’s perimeter and it’s easy to see why Fletcher Christian and his band of 18th-century mutineers famously elected to shun the Old Continent and seek a new lifestyle in Polynesia.

Moorea may have a sleepy feel but it continues to play an important part in helping shape Tahitian football. The island of little more than 15,000 inhabitants boasts a strong connection to the game and recently made an unlikely impact at continental level.

Fourteen years ago Moorea was chosen to host the first-ever edition of the OFC Beach Soccer Championship. The bare bones of the facility remain (pictured above) and offer a dreamlike image of football with its posts virtually lapped by waves at high tide.

MOOREA, FRENCH POLYNESIA - SEPTEMBER 24:  Local children play beach soccer on September 24, 2013 in Moorea, French Polynesia.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Tahiti may have finished third behind Solomon Islands but a legend was born at Tamea Beach in 2006. Despite a modest population, the Tiki Toa (Warrior Gods) went on to achieve extraordinary success by reaching successive FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup finals. Prior to that Tahiti hosted the tournament in 2013 – the first FIFA tournament in the Pacific Islands - with the venue on Papeete’s harbour appropriately enough offering a nightly sunset silhouetted by Moorea’s soaring mountains.

That same year Tahiti won hearts and minds with an unlikely appearance at the FIFA Confederations Cup at the expense of habitual Oceania kings New Zealand. Even the continental championship-winning goal delivered its own rare back-story, with Steevy Chong hailing from the remote island of Raiatea, some 150 miles from the Tahitian mainland.

Moorea may only be small in both size and population but football, like it is across the rest of French Polynesia, is comfortably the most popular land-based sport. Clubs on the island boast teams from U-7s to seniors.

Undoubtedly topping the pyramid though is AS Tiare Tahiti (pictured below), who hail from the commune of Afareaitu. Within 12 months, the club went from competing in Moorea’s local competition to the OFC Champions League on the back of a debut second-placed finish in Tahiti’s Ligue 1.

Founded in 1968, Tiare Tahiti narrowly failed to reach the quarter-finals and a possible match-up against the likes of FIFA Club World Cup regulars Auckland City.

The challenge now is to earn a return to the Champions League and maybe even host matches at their palm tree-lined Stade Afareaitu.

Moorea’s first-ever showing in continental competition proved short-lived, but the local football fraternity will hope the club’s achievement continues to enhance football’s status across the island.

This is the first in our ‘The Global Game’ series which focuses on football away from the spotlight. Next week we look at football in Bhutan.

AS Tiare Tahiti celebrate a goal during the 2020 OFC Champions League (Pic courtesy OFC Media via Phototek)