- FIFA.com spotlights football in Mauritius
- It lies 1,800 kilometres off the coast of Africa
- "We’re currently in a rebuilding process"
If you take a boat and set off from the east coast of Africa across the Indian Ocean, after around a 1,000 kilometres you will find Madagascar. If you sail 800 more then you arrive at the beautiful island of Mauritius, famed for its beaches, lagoons and reefs. Further inland among the mountains is the Black River Gorges National Park with rainforests, waterfalls, hiking trails and wild animals, including the flying fox.
Football was introduced to Mauritius in the early 20th century by British settlers and soon became the most popular sport on the island, with new clubs founded throughout the country. As was the case in England, a number of teams traced their origins back to schools, such as Royal College in Curepipe and Saint-Joseph College. Others were set up by specific strands of the population that made up Mauritian society at the time. Some names of clubs refer to the heritage of those who played for them, such as Chinese Dragons, or the national emblem in the case of Dodo Football Club (named after the large flightless and now extinct bird that previously was only found on Mauritius).
Step by step, specific structures were implemented by the clubs and the Mauritian football administration, including a national league that first saw the light of day in 1935, followed by a second national competition – the Republic Cup – in 1957.
During that time, a national team was formed, known affectionately as Club M, and played its first match in 1947 against a team from Reunion Island. The team went on to win ten consecutive titles at the Indian Ocean Games Triangular (the forerunner of the Indian Ocean Island Games) between 1947 and '63.
In 1952, the Mauritius Football Association was created to coordinate the footballing activities on the island. Ten years later, it gained membership to the African Football Confederation (CAF), and in 1964 it became a member of FIFA. The national team also needed a venue to play its games, and in 1955, the George V Stadium was built in the town of Curepipe.
Despite these positive developments, the country found it hard to establish itself on the continental stage due to its diminutive size – a mere 2,000 square kilometres. Only once has Mauritius qualified for the CAF African Cup of Nations (in 1974), with a single Indian Ocean Island Games title to its name (1985).
In 2001, football in Mauritius was restructured as part of the implementation of the country’s Sports Act. It was then decided to divide up the various clubs across the three levels of the Mauritian Liga by geographic location as opposed to ethnic origin, as was previously the case. The national football association also decided to focus far more strongly on youth football, and set itself the target of greater involvement in international football in particular and sport in general.
2003 saw Mauritius host the Indian Ocean Island Games in the George V Stadium, which was renovated for the occasion. The national football team made the most of home advantage and won the tournament once more. Then in May 2013, the Mauritius FA hosted the 63rd FIFA Congress, thus achieving its aim of having a greater presence on the international footballing stage.
World football’s governing body has implemented a number of Goal Projects over recent years, and in 2013 an artificial pitch was inaugurated at the Trianon high-performance centre. This investment has turned the centre into an incredibly important focal point for the 80,000 or so footballers throughout the island.
On an international level, the high point came around two decades ago when Mauritius got up to 116th on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. With the exception of the first-ever global ladder in 1992, when the team was classified 112th, this is the highest that the country has ever been placed.
To achieve that ranking, the team had held the likes of Gabon and South Africa to draws and defeated Angola in a qualifier for the CAF African Cup of Nations 2000. Back then, the star of the show was Jimmy Cundasamy – an amateur who only ever played club football on the islands of Mauritius and Reunion, making his and the Dodos’ performance at the time all the more impressive.
"Everyone on the island still talks about the golden generation – the ones who qualified for the Africa Cup in 1974,” Mauritius defender Lindsay Rose explained to FIFA.com. “That team brought fame and recognition for our football, and every Mauritian with even the slightest interest in the sport is aware of those players’ heroics."
"I’ve only been in the national team for two-and-a-half years, but I’ve seen genuine development over that time. There’s a real desire to put in good performances and the federation has mobilised important forces to promote the development of football on the island and help the national team to progress. I’m confident about the future."
Unfortunately for the Dodos, they went out of qualifying for the CAF African Cup of Nations 2021 and the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ with defeats to Sao Tome e Príncipe (5-2 on aggregate) and Mozambique (3-0 on aggregate). "It’s not all bad news though,” said Rose. “We’ve got quality all the way through our team, and playing in Mauritius is tough for any opponent. We’ve got a real foundation to build on."
Two new faces at the helm
To prioritise development in the years to come, a technical director (South African Zunaid Mall) and a new national team coach (Franco-Algerian Boualem Mankour) were appointed in February 2020. "We need to look to the future, and the future is the youth players,” said Mankour when he took over the post. “We’ll be working hard to prepare ourselves over the next two years."
Rose agreed with his new coach: "I don’t think it’s impossible for us to recreate the glory days of our predecessors in the future. We just need to have a little patience. We’re currently in the middle of a rebuilding process."