The Northern Mariana Islands Football Association reached a milestone last Wednesday night after earning full membership status from the Asian Football Confederation.
NMIFA’s application for ordinary membership received an overwhelming support, as 40 out of the 42 member-countries present and entitled to vote (two abstained) at the 30th AFC Congress held virtually voted to admit the CNMI as the 47th full member of the confederation.
“Dear friends and colleagues, the Asian football family has casted their votes and the results are clear. We’re proud to welcome the Northern Mariana Islands Football Association as the newest member of the AFC, and under its president Jerry Tan, I have no doubts that the game will continue to develop into greater heights. Congratulations and welcome,” said AFC president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa after AFC general secretary Dato’ Windsor John announced the results of the poll.
Tan, who attended the virtual AFC Congress with NMIFA vice president Vickie Izuka and general secretary Ross Zapanta, thanked everyone for making this historic moment for NMI soccer possible.
“We would like to thank the AFC family for the thrust and support. This milestone was a community effort. Players, coaches, parents, volunteers, game officials, the private sector, and our program sponsors, the CNMI government, and our supportive community are all behind us and have done their part in our mission to develop soccer in our islands and our bid to become an ordinary member of the Asian Football Confederation,” said Tan, as he addressed the NMIFA-member club officials and players and guests who witnessed the historic feat and join in the celebration at the Hibiscus Hall of the Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan.
Izuka, meanwhile, recalled the steps that the NMIFA has taken since 2005 to bring the association to where it is right now.
“It still feels so surreal, knowing how tough it is to sustain the program, especially at the very beginning. But here we are. We made it to this milestone and we are proud and thankful for the people who are with us in this journey,” Izuka said.
Guam Football Association and Japan Football Association are on the top of the list of NMIFA supporters, especially at the early stage of its program.
“Guam may be our rivals on the pitch, but they are our partners since Day 1 of our program. JFA has been with us for over a decade, providing financial and technical (coaches) support to our youth program. We thanked GFA and JFA for their support through the years and of course, the East Asian Football Federation, which gave us associate membership status in 2007 and accepted us as full member the following year,” Tan said.
NMIFA, since becoming an AFC associate member in 2008, has been given opportunities through the sport and other programs it offers.
“We are thankful to AFC for providing the CNMI, through NMIFA, opportunities for our youth, for developing their skills and encouraging them to get involved in physical activities,” said Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, who witnessed NMIFA’s promotion to full membership.
“We look forward to the continued development of the sport in our islands,” Torres said.
These opportunities will indeed continue and more will come, as NMIFA will be entitled to assistance—financial, technical, logistics, and other benefits—accorded to full members
“We can access AFC funds as an AFC full member. This is huge and important to make our national team program sustainable. Strengthening the national team needs a long-term project, at least 10 years. To help our national team compete in Asia, we must work to develop players from grassroots and youth. We also need more quality and qualified coaches,” NMIFA technical director and NMI head coach Michiteru Mita said.
“By utilizing the AFC fund and its many programs, we can expand our grassroots pool and more players will play in youth leagues under quality coaches. From there, we would get a bigger national team pool. Our national players will have more international tournaments or international exposure at a younger age,” Mita added.
The technical director sees the AFC full membership as a boost to the NMIFA’s bid to have a second facility after building the NMI Soccer Training Center in Koblerville in 2018. Additional pitches would allow the national teams and others players to have more training days and games, giving them more opportunities to improve and catch up with the level of plays outside the islands.
While the NMI celebrates its full membership status with AFC, NMIFA Executive Committee member and Superior Court Associate Judge Wesley Bogdan said the hard work will continue as they prepare for their next journey: gaining FIFA membership.
“Through lot of hard work and persistence, NMIFA has finally achieved an incredible goal (AFC full membership) and we’re on to the next one,” said Bogdan, who played for the first-ever CNMI National Men’s Team in 2007.