Some kids discovered the sport by watching YouTube and one of their parents created the country’s Federation. Lloyd Owers, the technical director, explains to EL MUNDO how they want to stop being the last sovereign state that has never had a selection.
There the United States tested during the Cold War nuclear weapons 7,000 times more powerful than those launched at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There, climate change threatens to submerge 40% of the territory under water in the next 50 years. There is a six-hour flight from Australia, a five-hour flight from Papua New Guinea, or a minimum of four hours from Fiji, the better-connected neighbor. The Marshall Islands. A mistreated, threatened, remote country that, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, is looking for a dream: to have a soccer team. It is currently the only sovereign state in the world that has never supported its own team, that has never played an international match, but is working to stop being one. I eat? It’s complicated.
“Right now we still don’t have anything. In the Islands there has never been a tradition. The most successful sport is Greco-Roman wrestling and, influenced by the United States, basketball and baseball are widely played. But in football there is neither league nor teams », he explains in conversation with EL MUNDO the British Lloyd Owersthe newly hired technical director, the first employee of the Marshall Islands Federation created two years ago.
His story, so local, begins in a global place: YouTube. Some adolescents from the islands discovered football by watching highlights of the Premier and the League and one of his parents, Shem Livai, who had studied engineering in the US Virgin Islands and knew the rules, decided to get down to business. He first organized some games in Majuro, the most important of the 34 atolls that make up the country -hence the photograph above-. And then he founded the body with the aim of making a selection. He would soon realize that it would be much more difficult than he thought.
The Marshall Islands have about 60,000 inhabitants, most of them over 50 years old – young people emigrate to the United States – and barely have space for a field. In fact, today there are none. The 181 square kilometers of surface, a quarter of the city of Madrid, does not make things easy. In Majuro, the first stadium in the country is being built to host the Micronesia Games this summer, but until then, matches can only be organized in a park or directly on the beach.
“We have opened a crowdfunding in GoFundMe to get basic material such as balls, goals or uniforms and create a minimal structure. We ask for $10,000 [de momento no alcanzan los 1.000 dólares] And if we achieve them, we will surely be able to move forward, “says Owers, a former coach of several modest clubs in the United Kingdom, hired through the Internet and who is currently working on a voluntary basis. He is actually saving up so he can travel to the Marshall Islands for the first time this summer.
Objective: play a friendly
Before, their efforts are focused on finding Marshall Islands footballers abroad who already know how to play and can contribute. Only in the state of Arkansas, very connected to the country, there are 15,000 emigrants and in the rest of the United States it is estimated that there will be double. Australia and somewhat closer countries, such as the Solomon Islands, are other search locations. On the horizon is the Marshall Islands entering the Oceania Football Confederation, then FIFA making room for them and finally playing the qualifying rounds for the World Cup. Although right now a friendly, a single friendly, against Tonga, Samoa or Vanuatu would already be a huge success.
«It is a long-term project and that attracts me. I would like to help football grow in the Marshall Islands, be part of its history and that the Marshallese can represent their country in the sport that I love, “concludes Owers, in charge of a plan so small that it is huge. The Marshall Islands, the last country without soccer, wants to have its own team. And the terrors of the past, the threats of the future, the lack of population or the absence of land do not seem sufficient obstacles to prevent it. Sooner rather than later, the ball will roll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism