Former President of Kiribati, Teburoro Tito, the newly appointed Football Patron has told the Football President, Mr. Ioteba Redfern, and the executives of the Kiribati Islands Football Association (KIFA) that he wants to see top soccer stars from Kiribati play in the world and other international soccer games as soon as practically possible. He made this comment during the function in which the Executives of the national football body, the largest, oldest and most organized sporting group in the country, officiated his appointment as patron on Saturday 14th January, 2017 at the Betio Town Council premises. Mr. Tito is the third to assume this position after Capt. Teitia Redfern (1990 to 1994), and Mr. John Mahoney, the Australian High Commissioner to Kiribati (1982-84).
A former Chairman of the national football (1980 to 1994) and a very keen soccer player in the center forward position Mr. Tito greatly welcomed the opportunity to renew his links with players, referees, coaches, trainers and the game his wife, Keina, had often described in those years to be his husband’s second wife and family. Tito thanked KIFA President Ioteba Redfern and members of his executives for their great effort in the organization of the many soccer competitions in the past that had uplifted the quality of football for many players to the regional and international standards. “The challenge for us now is to take these soccer stars out into the region and beyond and to tell the world that our stars are as good as other stars in the world”, Tito said.
In summing up his personal biography of football he recalled how he ranked football at the bottom of the sports he enjoyed in his secondary school years because he was never good at it and he made too many mistakes to the disappointment of almost every team he played for. He ended being listed as a substitute that was not meant to play but just to make up the numbers on the referee’s game form. That suddenly changed at the University of the South Pacific when the University began organizing inter island soccer competitions in the early 1970’s which continued right through to the late 1980’s. Because most of the students from Kiribati had never played competitive soccer in their earlier years, the Kiribati team often ended up at the bottom of the score table with all the blush and shame that went with it. That provoked a sense of patriotism for Kiribati and the not so good players became determined to start taking the game seriously which meant a lot of skill training on and wit the ball coupled with a lot of physical and mental exercises for fitness, stamina and adrenalin control.
In a matter of a year or two the not so good players had matched up well to the skilled and fit players from the Solomon’s, Vanuatu and Fiji. Soon the Kiribati soccer team became a top team of the University and some of the players in it were counted among the USP soccer stars at the time. When the Kiribati champion soccer team came to Suva to compete in the 1979 South Pacific Games Mr. Tito and other Kiribati soccer players asked to be enlisted on the national team but the players from Kiribati were clearly not in favor of having their places in the team being taken by other players. In a game against Papua New Guinea Kiribati lost with a shocking score of 11 to nil. In its next game against Fiji the result was even more shattering with a score of 25 to nil. There was complete silence on the part of the many thousands of Kiribati and part Kiribati people who filled up half of the Nausori soccer stadium. It was like attending a funeral of some great Kiribati heroes. The Kiribati players just did not have the skill, the fitness and the team work to match those of its opponents. Most frustrating of all was the inability of the players to play in boots as they had never played with boots on before. As a result, a kick on the ball with a boot often ended up with a “boot shot” instead of a “ball shot” which would be followed by laughter from the crowd and a player limping with only boot dashing after the flying boot to fit it back quickly before the ball got back to him. Mr. Tito said that was the time he told his colleagues in Fiji that he would one day return with a Kiribati team to Fiji and to equalize the 1979 score.
From 1980 Tito started on that football mission by re-organising the football organization on South Tarawa and then later brought other islands into the organization, arranging for trainers from English volunteers on the island to teach refereeing, coaching, skills training and fitness. Later an Australian coach was arranged with the help of the Australian High Commissioner who was then patron of the Football Association. Competitions were organized more frequently, primary school competitions were held, inter-department competitions, women soccer competitions were staged for the first time in 1983 well ahead of other Pacific countries. The first inter-island kicked off on Abaiang in 1984, the second on Tab North in the Southern Kiribati about a year later, the third on Abemama, the island where the famous author of the 18th century Robert Louis Stevenson was guest of the then King Binoka, the fourth on Tarawa, the capital island, and the fifth on Makin island in the North. Because of the lack of support from Government, the inter-island soccer games had to die a natural death. When Tito became President of Kiribati in 1994 he placed investment in sports development as a top agenda of his social development goals and an Act was passed to foster the development of sports in which the government is made to be responsible for financing certain aspects of sports whenever six or more islands agree to organize a sports competition, such as sea transport, venue, local transport and referees and sports official allowances and per diems. Arrangements for joining the Olympics and its sub bodies were arranged and put in place and Kiribati participation in regional and international sporting events were supported and funded. The National Games started in 2000 in which all competitive games including soccer were included. The 2002 football champion team from Arorae was granted the bonus of representing Kiribati in the 2003 South Pacific Games in soccer and was allowed to take other best players from other island teams to help strengthen its team work in what was going to be the first time fr Kiribati to return to Fiji after the 1979 Games. The team was not as strong as expected and that was good in assessing where we were on the Pacific scale at the time. To date that was the last time for the Kiribati soccer players to test out their standards overseas.
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