No thanks to Oceania Football Confederation’s late decision, the CNMI strikers missed a chance to debut in the Pacific Games.
The Commonwealth initially committed to send men’s and women’s teams in the 2012 Pacific Games in Noumea, New Caledonia this August. Selection process was made, training sessions were done for months, and funds were prepared, but in April, Northern Mariana Islands Football Association through Northern Marianas Amateur Sports Association was told the CNMI can’t compete in Noumea, as the Games will be used as World Cup and Olympic qualifiers for OFC-member nations.
The CNMI and Guam are non-OFC members and both are affiliated with the East Asian Football Federation and the Asian Football Confederation. With this complication, NMIFA graciously decided to withdraw from the Pacific Games so as not cause further problems with other participating teams. NMIFA also did want to risk its application (full membership) with AFC and FIFA by joining the Pacific Games and face possible sanctions from AFC. Guam insisted on joining the competition in Noumea.
Two months after the CNMI pulled out, OFC had a change of heart and the Commonwealth was lured back.
In a report posted at the Radio New Zealand International website yesterday, OFC announced the “2012 Pacific Games will no longer form part of the qualification process for the next football World Cup and women’s Olympic football tournament.”
“The Oceania Football Confederation had originally planned to use the football tournaments in New Caledonia as part of the qualification process, as had been the case in Samoa four years earlier. But uncertainty around the participation of Guam, which is a member of the Asian Confederation, has persuaded the OFC Executive Committee to scale back its involvement,” according to the report.
The report added that “OFC general secretary Tai Nicholas, admits it is disappointing to not be able to use the Pacific Games as a qualifying stage but says OFC had no other choice as FIFA cannot approve a FIFA qualifying event where non-OFC members are participating.”
With this development, the CNMI can now compete in Noumea, but time was not on the CNMI strikers’ side.
“We were given the opportunity to field a team, but NMIFA declined. It was too late to reorganize as most of our players had started their vacation off-island and we wouldn’t have been able to field a competitive team. Consistent training and the lack of, given the short period of time would have been a problem,” NMIFA general secretary Ed Salas said in an email to Saipan Tribune.
Brad Ruszala, who was selected on the CNMI Men’s Team, could not hide his frustration about the late decision.
“It’s a shame that Pacific Games organizers weren’t able to make that determination earlier in the process because there are a lot of players from the CNMI and Guam who were disappointed when we were shut out of the competition,” Ruszala said.
For its part, NMASA respected NMIFA’s decision and wished these complications will not happen again.
“NMASA stands behind NMIFA and supports its decision. We have been assured that the unfortunate situation that arose this year will not recur, and we hope that NMIFA will be sending CNMI teams to participate in the next Pacific Games,” NMASA president Michael White said in an email to Saipan Tribune.