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Grassroots football takes centre stage

First up it was an instructor’s course for the OFC Just Play programme – an initiative which aims to use sport as a tool for development and has involved more than 50,000 youth and 1,000 trainers across the Pacific since 2009.

A meeting of the Just Play Project Managers followed from 1-2 February before Technical Directors and Development Officers from each of OFC’s 11 Member Associations arrived in Auckland today to take part in the four-day FIFA Seminar beginning tomorrow. OFC Head of Social Responsibility Franck Castillo, who leads Just Play, says OFC is constantly looking at ways to expand the project.

“Just Play was initially designed to target schools, so that has been our main focus area for the last three years,” says Castillo. “But with so much success, we’re now seeing a real opportunity to work with the OFC Technical Department in extending the programme into the wider community and strengthening footballactivities from the ground up.”

OFC has worked closely with UEFA and theGovernment of Australia – through its agencies the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) – to roll out the Just Play programme across the Pacific since 2009. The Confederation has also teamed up with Special Olympics (NZ) on a programme for people with mental disabilities in Samoa and with the Paralympic Committee for children with a physical disability in Fiji. Project Managers presented their progress reports during the two-day workshop, with independent Sport for Development Advisor Kylie Bates on hand to assess the presentations. “Each country has taken the Just Play concept and adapted it to suit their own needs,” says Bates.

“The progress is exceptional in that more children are playing football in the Pacific than ever before while coaches and partner organisations, such as Non-Government Organisations as well as educational bodies, are really getting on board in helping to facilitatethat.” Bates believes Just Play has taken off rapidly in the Pacific due to the support it has received from the Member Associations. “Something that’s unique about Just Play is that it’s happening in the rural areas as well as urban areas. It’s taking up the challenge of getting a sports programme going in a community where often times there are no fields, few resources, and few people who have ever run a sports programme before.”

To conclude the week, FIFA Technical Development Officer and OFC Technical Director Patrick Jacquemet will lead his team in running the FIFA/OFC Grassroots Seminar at the Millennium Institute on Auckland’s North Shore this weekend. A football festival with more than 100 children will take place on 7 February from 1:30pm at Pinehurst School in Rosedale.

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