By RENALDO DORSETT
IN a relatively short time span, the Bahamas has become a major regional player in beach soccer and now the Bahamas Football Association seeks to join the rest of the Caribbean in making the development of the budding sport a major initiative.
BFA president Anton Sealey said the Bahamas will look to continue its development of the young sport, which just recently became a part of the FIFA family less than a decade ago.
“During the tournament over the weekend, the beach soccer committee that the Bahamas is a part of, along with other Caribbean nations in CONCACAF, were in meeting regarding several issues. The main focus was that there should be a concentrated effort to invest more in beach soccer. To encourage more countries in the region to take advantage of our resources and place a major focus on the development of the sport,” he said. “We have the premier facility, so of course we will be a major factor in regional competition, on the pitch and as hosts. We have already been asked to host the Caribbean Cup, which will feature the top teams in the region. It is in the preliminary stages with more announcements to come at a later date.”
The Bahamas finished sixth in the 2013 CONCACAF Beach Soccer Championship, which was held at the new beach soccer facility at Malcolm Park, following a loss to Guatemala in their tournament finale on Sunday.
A single goal was the difference between the Bahamas reaching the semifinal round and playing a match with a berth to the World Cup on the line, a feat Sealey called unlikely for the Bahamas at this point in traditional soccer.
“From the BFA standpoint we feel like it’s important to keep on the path so to speak as we have already made major strides in beach soccer in such a short period of time. Where we as a small member nation can have an impact, in terms of the sport, it makes sense to invest in that brand of soccer,” he said. “In the traditional game, the prospect of Bahamas beating those countries like Puerto Rico and Guatemala in 11-a-side game is very slim, but here we are beating them in this brand of soccer. To put the feat into perspective, this was an opportunity at the World Cup we just missed out on. Had we scored one more goal, we would have been talking about the Bahamas being in that semifinal as one of the top four teams in that qualifier.”
In their role as hosts, both on the pitch and at the administrative level, Sealey said the Bahamas has received high marks from the international beach soccer community.
“We have received very high marks in our feedback, from the level of organisation, to the most basic form of logistics, our organising committee and volunteers were on top of every aspect, which was exceptional for our first time hosting this event. We would still like to see more fan support and a greater turnout at the park, but we are confident we were able to bring a number of new fans to the sport who may have been less supportive of the traditional game,” he said.
“As for the team, they played exceptionally well. They put in some intense work, particularly over the last three months and put in a tremendous effort to get ready for this tournament. The warmup tournament in Mexico, in hindsight it’s debatable whether it had an effect on the performance in the last two games, but personally I thought the competition in Mexico prepared them very well for this competition. I thought they showed great resilience over the four days and the team did exceptionally well. With our recent performances, the team has stamped themselves on the map. The competition we played in Mexico, we were invited and the fact that we were invited speaks volumes about the respect countries have gained for our programme.”
The Bahamas Football Association expects the development of beach soccer to add a new dimension, officially, to its national programme. They will look to introduce the sport at the junior level with under-20, under-17 and under-15 during the course of this summer where they will look to host clinics and introduce the sport to a younger demographic.
“The good thing about it is there is a quick turnaround. There is a qualifier every year, the World Cup is every two years, so the team will continue to train, continue looking for competitions, and ways to better the programme,” he said.
When the Bahamas Football Association opened its historic beach soccer facility, 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 Bahamas hosted the 2013 CONCACAF Beach Soccer Championship, the qualifying competition for the 2013 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. It was the first tournament held at the facility which opened in November 2012 and it marked the first time a Caribbean country hosted a regional qualifying tournament for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup.
In the previous five times, Mexico has hosted four in Acapulco (2007) and Puerto Vallarta (2008, 2009 and 2010). The other qualifier was in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, in 2006.
“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,” said CONCACAF president Jefferey Webb.
In May 2005, the first-ever FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup was staged on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
According to FIFA.com, the sport was “developed by the founding partners of Beach Soccer Worldwide, the Beach Soccer rules were established in a dynamic format, one which causes each player’s individual skills to prevail, while stressing fair play among the athletes. The game was originally intended as a highly appreciated spectator sport, valuing and generating businesses in advertising and sales.”
Beach soccer is now played in 75 countries within the six FIFA Confederation zones.