The Pacific nation of Kiribati embraces the inclusiveness of Touch

April 27, 2021 @ 0:00 UTC

Youth development is critical to the growth of Touch in emerging Kiribati

Roora Taati Aviata began playing Touch in Kiribati in 2014 when not many women played the sport. Fast forward to the present, and the participation of women and girls in Kiribati Touch has grown substantially. 

This growth is mainly due to the outstanding leadership of the Kiribati National Touch Association, which is led by the dynamic Karea Baireti as President, with Roora as Secretary. They joined Adam Collins for a recent 'Set of 6' episode to discuss Touch in this island archipelago nation, which extends over an expanse of 3,441,810 square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean. This is a stretch of ocean roughly the size of the United States.

To increase girls' participation in Touch, Kiribati Touch came up with a novel method of coercion. The boys, who had previously dominated the sport, were told to include at least three girls in each team for the competition to commence. "We were forcing the boys to go out and encourage their friends and family who were girls to come and join in," said Karea Baireti. This tactic was so successful that it is no longer necessary, "Now the women who are involved are bringing their friends along." 

COVID free zone

The remoteness of Kiribati, pronounced Ki-ree-bas, along with decisive government action, has seen this nation of 118,000 people so far not experience a single case of COVID-19. The border has been shut since the start of the pandemic, and currently, Kiribati is on Covid-19 Level 1, which means within Kiribati, the situation is 'Business as Usual'. 

Schools were closed during the initial lockdown, which did affect the first-ever planned High School Touch competition. However, according to the President of Kiribati National Touch association Karea Baireti, "We have been free to roam around and play sports."

Success in accessing schools

 Kiribati Touch is acutely aware of the importance of youth development in taking the sport forward. "We believe that the juniors are key because we want to have some really good teams that can go and put us on the map," said Karea.

 As such, there has been a concerted effort to gain access to schools which has been a successful strategy. "We have been really accepted into the school communities." The teachers like the fact that Touch is a low contact but physically demanding sport that provides an opportunity for the children to be active. The fact that girls and boys can play together is an advantage, "We fit in well because we are more inclusive," said Karea. 

The first Primary School Touch competition was held last year for children in years 5 and 6 with 126 children involved, many of whom were girls, "We are really lucky with the girls. We have so many girls joining the sport."

 Kiribati Touch targeting 2023 Pacific Games

 Kiribati Touch has not participated in many international competitions so far. However, Karea Baireti said the Pacific Nation is determined to change this situation. "Our goal is to get into the Pacific Games, which is in the Solomon Islands hopefully in 2023. We've got that as our target. 

 "Whatever we need to do to get to that point, we are trying to get it done," said Karea Baireti. Kiribati Touch is hoping to set up an annual competition with neighbours such as Nauru, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands to expose their players to more regular international competition. 

A rapid improvement in refereeing and coaching is also planned utilizing the online resources available from the Federation of International Touch (FIT). "We are trying to build up our knowledge base really quickly because we have such a hard target to hit in such a small amount of time," said Karea. Great strides have been made already in terms of the referees. "The referees have improved so much, the game has got fairer, and everybody is enjoying the game much more now."

Kiribati Touch aims for international success

All of the hard work being done now by the Kiribati National Touch Association is bound to pay off, and it will happen sooner rather than later if Karea and Roora have anything to do with it. Kiribati Touch already has 800 active players and an intense focus on youth development which is increasing participation. The standard of refereeing is improving, and they are hungry for international competition. Karea Baireti has set the bar high, "We really want to be able to put teams together so we can actually join the big boys."