The Caribbean island of Sint Maarten is one of world football’s newer outposts
One of numerous territories aided by the Netherlands’ WorldCoaches programme
Nation participated in the Concacaf Nations League last year for the first time
The Netherlands’ contribution to world football has been immense. Three FIFA World Cup Finals™ and historical home to the some of the finest footballers the world has ever seen. The Dutch pre-eminence in football’s firmament has been exponentially heightened in recent years with their women’s team crowned European champions, before reaching their own FIFA Women’s World Cup Final™ just 12 months ago.
With a relatively modest population just shy of 18 million, few if any nations across the globe can match the Netherlands’ achievements on a per capita basis.
But the Dutch influence in world football extends way beyond their headline-grabbing feats at the highest echelons of the game. The past two decades has seen the Dutch Football Association (KNVB) take an active role in developing grassroots football across the globe in developing countries. That activity has heightened over the past decade through the KNVB’s WorldCoaches programme.
The raw numbers achieved by WorldCoaches in just over a decade is nothing short of extraordinary. Fifty-two nations across all corners of the world have experienced the programme, with well over half a million children participating.
One developing football outpost that has enjoyed significant support is Sint Maarten, a Caribbean-based constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Formerly part of the island group known as the Netherlands Antilles, it sits in the Leeward Islands and shares its modest landmass with the French territory of Saint Martin.
The nation’s association was founded in 1986 and has been a member of Concacaf since 2002, but recent years have seen significant increased activity for the island’s football scene. Sint Maarten returned to competitive international football in 2016 after a lengthy hiatus, notably taking part in the inaugural season of the Concacaf Nations League last year.
Sint Maarten’s battle at grassroots level was heightened by the devastation wrecked by Hurricane Irma in 2017. The youth football program is at capacity with 800 children, and lack of playing fields remains a major stumbling block to further growth.
That is where KNVB’s WorldCoaches was able to provide tangible assistance with an artificial mini-turf pitch opened exactly one year after the hurricane cut its way across the region. Some Dutch football royalty were on hand for the occasion, including 1974 World Cup Final goalscorer Johan Neeskens and iconic former Ajax goalkeeper Stanley Menzo.
The Dutch contribution is just one example of the difference that WorldCoaches is making in various parts of the world. The concept is not just focussed on what happens between the white lines, but providing guidance off the field as well.
“We use a bottom of the pyramid approach and within this program we use a unique combination of football and life skills,” WorldCoaches manager Michael van der Star told FIFA.com. “Through the years we have increasingly realised and witnessed the results of using the power of the ball to change the lives of young people. Throughout this time the goals has always remained unchanged; to develop local youth and the community.
“Within our WorldCoaches program we have selected three main focus areas. Our projects are always related to one or more of three pillars, namely personal development, social cohesion and health.
“Our focus is not only on the technical side of football, but also on the social impact of our sport. Children all over the world need proper guidance in their development.
“You don’t need a lot of equipment to play the game, just space and a ball, so it’s easily accessible and also very useful in the empowerment of girls. Football can be a very successful vehicle to inspire and guide children."
This article is part of our 'The Global Game' series, which focuses on football in remote places away from the spotlight. Next week we'll travel to the Scilly Isles.