By RENALDO DORSETT
When the Bahamas Football Association opened its historic beach soccer facility in November 2012, the first such venue to be created in the Caribbean, it was expected to make the Bahamas a major figure in the sport.
That vision has quickly come to fruition as The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), the BFA and Beach Soccer Worldwide announced this week that the Bahamas will host the 2013 CONCACAF Beach Soccer Championship, the qualifying competition for the 2013 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup May 8-12.
It marks the first time a Caribbean country will act as a host nation to a regional qualifying tournament for the 2013 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. “We are excited to host the regional qualifiers for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in the Bahamas,” said CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb.
“This rapidly growing sport is of particular relevance for the Caribbean region, given its pristine beach setting and idyllic weather. We are certain this niche will soon become the region’s staple.”
The winner and runner-up of the competition, which is being hosted for the first time by a Caribbean nation, will qualify directly to the 2013 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, September 18-28, at To’ata Stadium in Papeete, Tahiti.
“The Bahamas Football Association is indeed pleased and honoured to have been chosen as the hosts for this year’s qualifier for CONCACAF,” said Anton Sealey, president of the Bahamas Football Association. “We are looking forward to hosting our confederation colleagues at our newly built facility located at Malcolm Park in Nassau on the Island of New Providence. As the first member in the Caribbean to host the event, we are looking forward to a greater number of participants from the Caribbean, taking advantage of the fact that the competition is being held in the Caribbean. This we hope will result in more of our Caribbean colleagues promoting this exciting brand of football in their respective associations.”
Full details regarding the CONCACAF teams participating in the 2013 CONCACAF Beach Soccer Championship, as well as the official match schedule, will be announced on a later date.
“Taking the World Cup qualifier to the Caribbean was a necessary step to take,” said Joan Cusco, CEO of Beach Soccer Worldwide. “There’s a huge beach soccer potential in the region and that was the right moment to make it happen. The Bahamas is a great example of this, as they built an excellent permanent stadium thus proving a strong commitment with the sport and the possibilities it offers.”
The Bahamas men’s national team foreshadowed what the country can expect from its budding beach soccer programme, a competitive play at a high level, ready to challenge the best in the region.
In a friendly to officially launch the opening of the centre, the home team lost 6-5 in extra time to Jamaica before a raucous home crowd.
The facility located just west of the Sir Sidney Poitier Bridge, Malcolm Park North, is the first of its kind in the region and during its opening ceremony was declared a valuable asset to the BFA and the Bahamas in general by the Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Dr Daniel Johnson.
“It is a great time in Bahamian history,” Johnson said. “Now that the Bahamas has set the mark in the new sport, we expect to dominate in beach soccer within the region. The stadium will benefit the Bahamas in many ways in the future.”
In their last international beach soccer appearance, the 2009 Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Beach Soccer Championships, the Bahamas finished sixth overall with losses to the United States and Costa Rica.
The Bahamas was the only team to represent the Caribbean Zone at the qualifier, something regional football represtatives hope to improve on with the opening of the facility.
“The Bahamas has set the pace for the region and national teams from around the Caribbean have already expressed interest in coming to play here,” CONCACAF representative Captain Horace Burrell said.
“This facility will certainly make the Caribbean very proud. I know I will have the support of president Webb in ensuring that the Bahamas is the host of many competitions in the future.”
Gordon Derrick, president of the Caribbean Football Union, said the Bahamas should look forward to both the product on the field and the opportunities for sports tourism.
“Given that the country’s main economic driver is tourism and the fact that beaches are one of your selling points, I think this is a no brainer. This facility will only ogle well for the future development of sports tourism guided by the BFA,” he said. “As you try to bring the tourists here, not only to enjoy not only the hospitality, but also the recreation here at this wonderful facility.”
The Bahamas Football Association expects the development of beach soccer to add a new dimension, officially, to its national programme.
With the assistance of FIFA’s initiative to grow the sport of soccer in the Caribbean, the BFA applied for the construction of the beach soccer facility, which they hope will provide the Bahamas with a much better opportunity to qualify for the World Cup as opposed to the challenge of advancing in regular soccer on the grass surface.
The CONCACAF Beach Soccer Championship has been held six times. Mexico has hosted on four occasions, while Costa Rica and Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, staged the event once each.