BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Lloyd Owers recollects with fondness his preliminary go to from his dwelling in England to the Marshall Islands, a small nation of 5 islands, 29 atolls and about 60,000 folks located within the western Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Australia.
“I felt at dwelling,” the 33-year-old soccer coach stated of his first impressions. “The neighborhood welcomed me with open arms.”
Owers wasn’t there as a widely-traveled Brit checking it out as a vacationer. He was appointed technical director of the Marshall Islands Soccer Federation in December of final 12 months, and was making his first official go to in August in that capability.
Oh, by the way in which, the Marshall Islands has no nationwide soccer crew. It’s been touted because the “final nation on Earth” with out worldwide illustration within the sport.
“Sure,” Owers reiterates in emailed correspondence with The Related Press. “We’re the one U.N.-recognized nation which have by no means had a nationwide consultant crew.”
Enter Owers, a well-credentialled coach based mostly in Oxfordshire in southeast England and who has offered his experience to groups in Canada, the U.S. and Sweden, amongst others.
The Marshall Islands will not be a member of FIFA, soccer’s worldwide governing physique. The nation’s first try to affix an official regional soccer group might include the Oceania Soccer Confederation or the Asian Soccer Confederation.
“We’re nonetheless exploring all obtainable choices to us,” Owers says. “OFC and AFC are each viable choices. We hope to progress into extra talks throughout 2024 however at this stage we’re nonetheless within the planning section to make sure that we’re absolutely ready.”
The preparation has begun, with soccer officers within the nation and Owers planning a grassroots-level entree into the game through the nation’s faculties.
“The soccer federation has already agreed with the ministry of schooling so as to add soccer to the college sports activities curriculum alongside volleyball and basketball,” Shem Livai, president of the Marshall Islands Soccer Federation, instructed the AP. “To allow college academics to ship high-quality teaching periods we shall be coaching academics to be certified soccer coaches by a mix of on-line and in-person programs.”
Livai says there are about 6,000 kids who reside on Majuro Atoll — the biggest and capital island — and about 12,000 kids are unfold throughout all the islands.
“Finally we wish all of them to have the chance to play soccer or futsal,” Livai says.
Owers, who may be very energetic on social media, is doing his half, posting a request for his followers to donate balls, bibs, cones and targets to assist out the fledgling program within the Marshall Islands.
In any other case, Owers’ posts on X, previously often called Twitter, may depart all however seasoned soccer followers, gamers and/or the game’s tacticians baffled. Here’s a current one.
The Marshall Islands, about 4,300 kilometers (2,600 miles) northeast of the 2032 Olympic host metropolis Brisbane, Australia, have an extended historical past with the USA, and Owers thinks that could be a plus in soccer changing into in style there.
After gaining army management of the Marshall Islands from Japan in 1944, the U.S. assumed administrative management of the islands following the top of World Warfare II. The economic system of the Marshall Islands remains to be intently linked to the U.S. and its gross home product is derived primarily from U.S. funds — the U.S. Military garrison on Kwajalein Atoll is the No. 2 employer within the islands behind the Marshall Islands authorities.
Between 1946 and 1958, the U.S. used the Marshall Islands as an atomic bomb testing floor. Throughout that point, 67 atomic bombs have been dropped there.
The Marshall Islands signed a Compact of Free Affiliation with the USA in 1983 and gained independence in 1986, when the Compact settlement got here into pressure. The Republic of the Marshall Islands is now a sovereign nation.
“There’s clearly nothing to cover from that as a result of it’s a part of their tradition, it’s a part of the historical past,” Owers instructed the BBC of the American connection. “There’s a completely functioning U.S. army base in Kwajalein. It’s a part of their id and, as a result of it’s very closely U.S. cultured, there’s quite a lot of curiosity in sports activities comparable to baseball and basketball.
“However now with soccer, or soccer, as a result of that has grown within the States, it has additionally grown on the Marshall Islands. The federation needs to ultimately grow to be a FIFA member. They don’t simply wish to be taking part in in opposition to native nations, they wish to be a part of a much bigger program.”
Owers, who performed semi-professionally, plans to journey once more from England to the Marshall Islands early in 2024. It’s Step 2 and a piece in progress till he has a crew to educate.
“I can’t wait to get again,” he says.