Queen's Baton Relay: Football on a level plane field

Runway and football ground in Tuvalu

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On my recent visit to the Pacific island of Tuvalu, I was intrigued to discover its unusual sporting story.

When the sun sinks, and the baking heat subsides, the 1.7km (1 mile) airplane runway in the capital Funafuti comes to life as the main sports ground on the island with games of football and volleyball taking place all around.

Football Player in Tuvalu

It turned out that the airfield was built during World War ll, which gave Tuvalu a fast link to the outside world and also a vast area that for many decades was its only playing field.

However, this runway also paved over the farmland on the main island and Tuvalu has been reliant on imported food ever since.

One of the main reasons that football is the national sport here instead of rugby, which is very popular throughout the Pacific region, is you simply can't play rugby on a runway - or not without serious injury!

However, about ten years ago, Tuvalu built its only full sized playing field away from the runway. Despite being built as a football pitch, it has helped boost the popularity of rugby.

Tuvalu Facts

  • Tuvalu has participated at every Commonwealth Games since Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1998. It is yet to win a medal.
  • The country used to be called the Ellice Islands after the English politician Edward Ellice. The captain of a ship owned by the MP visited the islands in 1819 and named one of the atolls after his boss.
  • Tuvalu means "eight standing together", referring to the eight populated islands that made up the country at the time.

But the pitch has its own challenges. At high tides and during storms, the ocean doesn't just threaten to flood inland but it can also bubble up from underground.

The result is a baked-hard pitch with the odd mud patches. The salt water of the ocean also kills the grass.

None of these issues, or lack of resources, seem to dampen the spirits of the locals. Tuvalu is continuing its mission to become a member of FIFA.

As yet, the national team has never hosted a home game. But with and a talented young squad, they could be a team to watch in the future.

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