New Zealand may be the powerhouse of 11-a-side football in the Oceania region but it lags behind other island nations when it comes to beach soccer.
And with 15,000kms of mainly-beach coastline, it might be time to ask whether we could be one day supporting the Sand Ferns (or similar) as they head to a FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup.
One group keen to explore the possibilities is WaiBOP Football, one of the six regional federations affiliated to New Zealand Football.
WaiBOP, whose region has about 125km of coastline, will host two pilot beach soccer events at Tay Street Beach, Mount Maunganui on March 12 and 19.
The events are designed to give junior, youth and senior footballers the chance to experiment with the beach version of the game and to examine what demand exists for a sand-based option.
More than 75 countries run organised beach soccer competitions and the sport attracts annual television audiences from more than 170 nations. It is one of the fastest-growing professional sports in the world.
Beach soccer – have a go events
Dates: March 12 and 19, 2022.
Venue: Tay Street Beach, Mount Maunganui.
Boys and girls games: 10.30am — 1.30pm
Senior games: 1.30pm — 4.30pm
Rules: Beach soccer is played in teams of five, including a goalkeeper. Click HERE for the basic rules >>>>
How to enter
Players wishing to enter the pilot games need to register with WaiBOP Football in advance.
Junior registrations: HERE
Youth and senior team registrations: HERE
Previous pilot ‘a great day’
The WaiBOP region has successfully hosted a previous pilot for the beach game when Oceania Football Confederation worked with the Cambridge FC and Te Awamutu AFC clubs to hold a day of games in February 2015.
Men, women and young players from the two clubs played a series of games using the international beach volleyball courts beside Lake Karapiro.
The pilot event was used to test the suitability of Lake Karapiro – known as the national headquarters of rowing and canoeing – as a venue for beach soccer.
OFC’s then-Beach Soccer Development Officer Paul Toohey was impressed.
“Without doubt, Lake Karapiro is a world-class venue that could host international beach soccer,” he said.
“Not only because of the quality and size of the sand pitch but also the surrounding facilities from top-notch accommodation to the high-performance facilities in the immediate vicinity.
“It was an excellent day, something to build on, and a pleasure for me to help with beach soccer in my own country. When I travel the Pacific or see how big the game is around the world, it’s also great to see how well it can work in your own environment.
“My impression is that everybody loved it and is hungry for more.”
Oceania strong in beach soccer
Tahiti and Solomon Islands are among the Oceania region’s best-performing nations at beach soccer with both making appearances at FIFA Beach Soccer World Cups.
Tahiti have not only hosted the game’s premier event in 2013 but reached the World Cup final in 2015 and 2017. Their Tiki Toa side topped their group at the last World Cup, held last August in Russia.
Youngsters are taking to the beach game in droves and Fédération Tahitienne de Football (FTF) last year held inaugural beach soccer festivals across four locations (Paofai, Papara, Aorai and Tinihau) for club players aged 5-18.
In recent years, OFC has actively supported member nations to run beach soccer activities from grassroots to senior level, with new facilities and local competitions in Port Vila, Vanuatu and Ha’apai, Tonga.
In January 2022, the Cook Islands Football Association (CIFA) held their second CISNOC Beach Games in Nikao, a three-day event that included various beach sports codes.
CIFA entered six teams in both the men’s and women’s groups played in a round-robin format.