Weekly Soccer Digest
Monthly Asian Report: Vol.6
“Ambition of The Tropical Resort Island”
by Takashi Morimoto
From The Northern Mariana Islands
Seeking Membership with AFC and FIFA (with Japanese Support)
“Kazuyoshi Miura? Resort destination? What’s the connection? Well, I would like to say that the CNMI is a place for football foremost.” President of NMIFA (Northern Mariana Islands Football Association) Mr. Jerry Tan said.
He has a great ambition. The first step is to obtain membership with AFC and then FIFA. NMIFA applied for the membership three years ago. Today the application is still under the careful review.
The Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands is the US territory, made of 14 small islands in the Pacific Ocean. One of the islands is Saipan, a popular resort destination for Japanese, and recently known as the place where Kazuyoshi Miura was arrested. It is hard to recognized Saipan as a place for football.
By the way, do you know there is one well-known football player of CNMI National Team? The player is Bruce Berline, who is the “celebrity” lawyer for Kazuyoshi Miura. Although he didn’t have any experience playing football, having great athlete nature and challenging sprit, he was selected as a CNMI National Team player last year and played in one of the play-off games against Guam National Team in the preliminary round of the EAFF Cup 2008. He is not playing this year. He would be too busy at the court to be on a field.
So, why has CNMI been working hard for football today?
Mr. Tan replied, “It’s of course impossible to win at the World Cup. The population of CNMI is only 70,000.” Do you think competitive and strong football (FIFA ranking?) is everything? “Of course not.” “The reason why I decided to apply for the membership was that I saw the CNMI matching to FIFA’s philosophy, which is to promote football throughout the world.”
Perhaps Mr. Tan’s background is a foundation of his passion today for football. Born in Hong Kong, he moved to Guam during his early childhood because of his parents business and so he grew up on Guam. At that time, Guam was not a member of AFC or FIFA. There is no opportunity to have an international football match or game. Football on Guam was not popular at all, being lack of fields, facilities, and coaches. Football was not even recognized as a recreational sport on Guam.
However, since 1996 when Guam became the AFC and FIFA member, everything changed dramatically. Today football is the No. 1 sports on Guam, even more popular than American football and basketball, which used to be the most popular sports on Guam.
We see many children playing football after school. Guam also has been helped by JFA (Japan Football Association). JFA sends coaching staffs to help the Guam National Team, such as Mr. Kanbe (2003-2004), Mr. Tsukitate (who was a former head coach for Simizu Youth Club). Guam has also hosted many foreign national teams and clubs as a training place. Recently, the Urawa came to Guam. During that time, Guam National Team played on a practice game against the Urawa. The result was 0-19: Guam lost. However, it was a great opportunity for the non-professional players to play with professional players. Such a huge gap of level (between Japanese professional players and Guam National Team players) surprise Mr. Tan.
Media tends to focus on negative sides of both AFC and FIFA recently, such as messy operation at AFC and reselling the last World Cup game ticket by the officers, but in fact, they have given tremendous efforts and activities to promote football in developing nations and regions.
Mr. Tan settled on Saipan just before he turned 30. His name is famous as one of the most successful business owners of the island, who runs many businesses such as hotels, IT, real estate and amusement services. He is also a chairman of Mariana Visitors Association today. “For many people to love soccer, to improve the technique level, and to deepen the friendship with each other,” Mr. Tan stood up for promoting football through the islands and contributing the local community.
NMIFA’s General Secretary and former National Team Player Mr. Wesley Bogdan recalled the past three years development, “There is only way to express our appreciation toward the generous support from so many and that is to say thank you. Especially, thanks to EAFF which has been incredibly supportive, giving NMIFA the opportunities to participate in the preliminary games for EAFC and in the EAFF U-14 Festival held in China last year and for providing monetary funding for these activities. JFA has also been generous and allowed a JFA member of its International Committee, Ichiro Fujita, to come to Saipan several times now to help and guide our development and hold coaching clinics. He is a special person for us.”
AFC will be visiting the island of Saipan in the middle of the next month to discuss more details for the future membership. Mr. Bogdan said, “The last time when AFC came to Saipan was two years ago. I believe AFC will see and be very surprised how much we have progress and accomplished within these two years. We have opened an office and hired staff and football has increased in popularity in many ways ion response to NMIFA’s activities and undertakings. It is going to take a lot of work, but the NMIFA can absolutely become a member of both AFC and FIFA.”
We look forward to welcoming the 209th FIFA member that would be the 47th FIFA member from Asian Nations.