Solomon Islands forced to prepare on an old basketball court for Lithuania 2021
FIFA Covid-19 Relief Plan funds have aided Solo’s preparations
The Kurukuru featured in the seventh episode of Living Football
Solomon Islanders live and breathe football. Five-figure crowds are common-place at the Lawson Tama Stadium – a remarkable achievement with a population of just 100,000 on the main island.
Futsal too is undoubtedly a massive component of Solomon Islands’ football ecosystem. More specifically an outdoor iteration of the game played on any hard and flat surface. Despite the oppressive humidity, or perhaps because of it, futsal is far more popular in this Melanesian country than anywhere else in the Pacific.
“Futsal is a fast-growing sport,” says highly-regarded national team skipper Micah Lea’alafa. “Everywhere you go across the Solomon Islands – they all play futsal.”
Such has been their dominance in Oceania, Solomon Islands will be notching up a fifth successive FIFA Futsal World Cup appearance when they step on the court in Lithuania. Awaiting them are group matches against Morocco, Portugal and Thailand. One thing is for certain – the Solomon Islanders’ passion for the game and pride in representing their nation will be on display, as it has been previously on the world stage.
Few of the 24 nations heading to Lithuania 2021 have been impacted by Covid-19 as much as the Solomon Islands. Players and officials have lost jobs and income, and the team have been denied access to the nation’s only national standard court greatly impacting preparations.
With their training option in Honiara turned into a makeshift vaccination centre, a rudimentary outdoor basketball court is now the Kurukuru’s training facility. The quality of facilities used by many of their competitors are a world away in every sense.
“The court limits us from giving 100 per cent safety-wise but, so far so good and all the players are looking good,” Lea’alafa said. “When we train on a proper court (in the future) we can work on the tactical aspect of our game.”
Solomon Islands have enjoyed mixed results in their previous campaigns on the world stage. They did, however, notch up a highly memorable footnote in the history of the Futsal World Cup with a storybook win over Guatemala, including a winner from their 16-year-old goalkeeper.
While the Solomons’ training regime has been severely impacted, they will be able to access FIFA’s Covid-19 Relief Plan funding to partly cover coaching and travel costs ahead of the Futsal World Cup.
“COVID-19 has really affected football in the Solomon Islands,” said Leonard Paia, chief executive of the Solomon Islands Football Federation (SIFF).
“We only have one venue where we can run the Futsal National League. Unfortunately, in the Solomon Islands we don’t have access to the facilities that other countries use to train their national teams for the World Cup.
“FIFA Forward has been supporting us in these areas. We really appreciate the support that FIFA has given us to help carry out our activities, which enables us to fulfil our commitments with football development in our country.”
Solomon Islands will hold a two-week training camp in Honiara before hopefully holding another in Europe. They will then finalise their Lithuania 2021 preparations with a warm-up tournament in Croatia.
“COVID-19 has affected us and caused unemployment for some of the players,” said Francis Lafai, Solomons’ assistant coach. “The COVID-19 funding has supported us financially. Without that support, we would not be able to have these trainings.”