Celebrations full of colour and culture
After seven years in the making, it was only fitting that today’s inauguration was celebrated in style with colour and culture dominating the proceedings.
Youthful and vibrant young Cook Islanders jumped in to the football green accompanied by thunderous drum beats to join in the celebrations. Dwarfed by the peaks of majestic volcanic mountains, the bare-bellied and bare-shouldered female dancers simultaneously swayed their hips to the drum beats while the men, in colourful purple headwear, accompanied them. In the western world the movements can be described as seductive, but to these islanders, it is traditional dancing.
From royal envoy and political dignitaries including the country’s Prime Minister, to young football enthusiasts, everyone came out for the ceremony and bathed in the natural brilliance of the paradise-like surroundings. Three poles bearing FIFA, OFC and CIFA flags fluttered in the wind back-dropped by tropical palm trees.
The formalities commenced in the customary manner with an opening prayer before CIFA President Lee Harmon proudly welcomed the distinguished guests. In a stirring speech, President Harmon said the inauguration was perhaps the most momentous occasion for the Cook Islands to date since the country gained FIFA recognition in 1994.
“This inauguration dawns a new day for the Cook Islands, a new day for our people and for Football. These facilities will give our young people the opportunity to achieve their full potential at national and international levels.”
President Harmon also expressed his deepest thanks to FIFA for their generosity and support.
“This inauguration marks the second and third phases of FIFA’s Goal Programme set by FIFA nine years ago aimed at elevating national football association around the globe.
“Although CIFA have not hosted any major sporting event, our existence has brought into this country over 12-million dollars in the last nine years. As you can see football is just not a sport, it helps the economy and it is a tool to build better and stronger communities.”
The honourable Reynald Temarii, OFC President and representative of the FIFA President, then addressed the crowd and expressed his appreciation to CIFA for their tireless efforts to see the project through from infancy to completion.
“These objectives were shared to me by CIFA President Lee Harmon when we met 12 years ago for the first time in Auckland, as young presidents in the Oceania. He did not stop and with the support of his Executive together they achieved. Congratulations,” Temarii said.
“In here (Cook Islands) 8-percent of your people play football. CIFA has 1200 registered players out of the 15,000 population. This is a great achievement when compared to the statistics of other countries.”
Cook Islands Prime Minister Jim Marurai was also on hand to say what the centre means for such a proud sporting nation.
“I congratulate CIFA and its development partners for this project. As mentioned by the Vice-President of FIFA that this is not the end of the road so I am honoured to be here to witness this.”
FIFA Development Officer for Oceania Glenn Turner, who was instrumental in steering the project, said the main objective of the ‘House of Football’ was to attract families and encourage them to get involved as players, coaches, referees and spectators.
From humble beginnings
The official ground-breaking on what is now the home of football took place on 16 April 2003. With coastal land scarce and traditionally owned by families and handed down through generations, officials had spent an exhaustive two years securing the low-lying plot of land which then took months to implement underground irrigation and drainage systems.
Less than a year later on 2 April 2004, the doors of CIFA’s new home were flung open. The Cook Islands football community finally had a centralized facility – an important step for a country made up of island groups scattered as far as 1200km from Rarotonga.
CIFA’s administrative offices were integrated into the new building and the association amped up activities, especially in the area of development. Cook Islands may be one of FIFA’s smallest member associations with a mere 14,000 inhabitants, but it has an impressive track record of development programmes in a variety of areas including junior, youth, women’s, coaching and refereeing.
With the completion of Goal III, the complex now has dressing rooms for players and officials, spectator facilities with covered seating for 500 people as well as media rooms and PA capabilities.
All-in-all this complex is the footballing epicentre for the tiny Southern Pacific jewel. And in a country known as one of the most idyllic places in the world, it is only fitting there is now a picturesque home for ‘The Beautiful Game.’