Australian generosity steps up in FIFA’s absence

Ben of Phnom Penh Roar Guru

By , Ben of Phnom Penh is a Roar Guru

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    The intrepid footballers of one of the world’s poorest nations, Kiribati, have long been ignored by FIFA and the OFC. However, amateur football clubs in South Australia are stepping in where FIFA has fallen inexcusably short.

    Playing in mismatching shirts and shorts with no shoes, socks or, heaven forbid, shin guards is the norm for most footballers in Kiribati.

    While their calloused feet are insensitive to the hard, coral dust fields, the same can’t be said for the tops of feet or shins when encountering those fortunate enough to have boots.

    With an extremely limited private sector to draw upon, most of the basics Australian footballers take for granted are simply not available. A number of clubs manage to obtain complete sets of shirts, however as everything is imported from afar it is usually of low quality and, for many sides, simply unaffordable.

    There are, however, a number of South Australians who work in the country on various projects, and some of these people love the round-ball game.

    Through these contacts, Flinders University SC collected sets of old training shirts, enough to provide four sets of kit, and sent them off with one of the South Australians working in Kiribati.

    The difference such a simple, generous act has made is compelling. The donation of the shirts made the national newspaper, with politicians both past and present voicing their appreciation.

    The North Tarawa representative side is already wearing one set with two other sets available for teams in the south. Further used training shirts from another South Australian club are on their way with requests from numerous outer-island football sides coming thick and fast.

    The collection of further shirts, used shin guards, boots and other paraphernalia from both Flinders University SC and Sturt Lions FC is being explored.

    Perhaps the biggest difference has been the donation of playing shirts to the Special Olympics side.

    Special Olympics footballers are some of the most ignored players in the football family. I dare say most reading this article are unaware that Australia even has a side.

    In a country as poor as Kiribati, they have precious few resources to fall upon. Yet they are surrounded by a strong, caring community, and it is here that Kiribati stands tall.

    A local businessman, Teteeua Tarati, is leading the development of the Kiribati Special Olympics national football team as they attempt to qualify for the 2019 Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi.

    Each week the young Olympians meet to build their skills and confidence, a challenge given many are normally restricted to their family houses and community maneabas (large, open buildings).

    The Special School bus, an old, yellow imported bus with a cracked windshield, has been used to collect athletes from their homes, however it recently broke down. Trying to find spare parts is proving difficult. Alternative transport has been found however it costs precious dollars the Special Olympics football organisers can ill-afford.

    KIFA, the local football federation, is supplying what coaching it is able and the Singapore Special Olympics Committee kindly donated some balls.

    And Flinders University SC supplied the shirts.

    These brave children are scheduled to play a part in the Independence Week celebrations, taking to the field with a mixture of pride and anxiety, while proudly wearing a common uniform, albeit one from a place they have never known.

    There are discussions afoot to bring the Special Olympics footballers from Kiribati together for a meeting against their Australian counterparts in the near future.

    It won’t be a clash that states will vie for, nor one that will threaten to dominate the back page of the major papers. But it will be one that is partly made possible by the generous actions of footballers thousands of kilometres away.

    In a world of staggering transfer fees and epic organisational corruption, it’s comforting to know that people are still willing to assist those without. For all the millions splashed, jets boarded and hotels frequented, it’s the kindness of strangers that reaches furthest.

    FIFA and the OFC may show indifference to the plight of Kiribati, but the same can’t be said for some munificent Australian amateur footballers.

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