By RENALDO DORSETT
EXECUTIVES at the international and local level noted that they expect the 2017 Beach Soccer World Cup to be a milestone event for the Bahamas and the entire Caribbean as the sport continues to develop throughout the region.
FIFA, CONCACAF and the Bahamas Football Association hosted a joint press conference prior to the event as the 16 nations began their trek toward the title of World Cup Champion.
Fatma Samoura, FIFA secretary general, said the growth of the sport, as FIFA hosts its 9th World Cup, is particularly indispensable to countries like the Bahamas.
“Beach soccer is growing tremendously and several of our member nations have invested in long-term legacy programmes for the youth. There are several countries where the only possibility to lift a World Cup trophy will definitely be through beach soccer,” she said.
“Reflections are ongoing within FIFA to first define what will be the future strategy in general and from these discussions we will decide whether it is something that deserves additional funding from FIFA.”
The Bahamas makes its debut at the World Cup level not just as hosts, but also as participants.
“I’m thrilled and really privileged to be here in the archipelago of the Bahamas for the first time to attend the first competition of this level hosted by this nation. It’s also an opportunity for FIFA to come and meet with other federations,” Samoura said. “I would like to express my thanks to the organisers for putting on such a beautiful event. I hope that the competition will be something we can keep in our memories and also the memories of the people of the Bahamas.”
In addition to the Bahamas, teams participating include: Switzerland; Ecuador; Senegal; Nigeria; Italy; Mexico; Paraguay; Portugal; Panama; Brazil; Tahiti; Poland; United Arab Emirates; Iran and Japan.
Portugal hosted the 2015 edition of the Beach Soccer World Cup and took home the tournament trophy in their role as hosts.
FIFA Head of Events, Jaime Yarza, said the organization hopes to build on the success of that event.
“We hope this is at least as good in Portugal. The experience will be different; this is an island so we have a different atmosphere. Portugal was such a fantastic tournament that we really need to go one step beyond to make this event better and I think the prep has gone very well,” he said, “I think one of the main advantages we have here is the legacy of this facility and that it will remain a permanent one that will remain here for the beach soccer family in the region here in the Bahamas. We hope to achieve the success we had in Portugal but leave an impact on the region as well.”
This is first time that the World Cup has been hosted in a CONCACAF nation. Organisers for the biennial event said while each host destination has its own unique appeal, The Bahamas has attracted increased attention because of its atmosphere
“This is the first event of this nature held by a Caribbean country so its quite significant for us. It’s quite a momentous occasion and watershed moment for CONCACAF. That it’s the Beach Soccer World Cup is also significant because it’s the young child on the FIFA docket that has shown tremendous growth over the last 11 years. We look forward to the growth of the game in CONCACAF,” said CONCACAF President, Victor Montagliani, “FIFA is very excited to be here in the Bahamas and we look forward to further growth of this game. Hopefully it’ll be a clean tournament from an injury perspective but it’ll be some exciting football to watch.”
He applauded the Bahamas Football Association for the vision to undertake the hosting of the event.
“I know it’s been a long process of a few years, but congratulations to Anton Sealey and his team for putting on a tremendous event. You’ve already done it with the CONCAF Championships and everyone came away with a wow factor with what you guys put on and I’m sure people will do the same following this Beach Soccer World Cup,” he said.
This edition of the BSWC is intended to serve as a catalyst to the growth of the sport in the region.
“I think having a permanent facility gives us a great anchor. Aruba is also looking at developing a similar facility. There are few Central American countries world beach soccer is very popular so we are developing some hubs,” he said, “It will be a lot easier to facilitate programming and events with arenas built. There are opportunities with the sport over and above the sport itself. I think this World Cup in Bahamas is a platform for CONCACAF to grow the sport itself.”
Bahamas Football Association President, Anton Sealy, welcomed the visiting teams, executives and administrators, while imploring them to enjoy all that the Bahamas has to offer off the pitch as well.
It’s been a labor of love the last few years and our LOC has been working extremely hard backed by our very committed local supporters. This is a tremendous honor for us and one that we don’t take lightly,” he said, “I’m excited for this event.. We really expect that over the course of the next few days, both at the facility and throughout the country itself. The competition is going to be fantastic, we know it, but beyond the facility we want you to experience our warmth and hospitality. Those visiting us for the very first time, let’s not make it the last time.”
Gates open at the National Beach Soccer Stadium everyday of the preliminary rounds at 2:30pm. General Admission is free. The competition concludes May 7.