The Asian Football Confederation has awarded the Northern Marianas Islands Football Association the AFC Grassroots Charter Bronze membership in recognition of the CNMI’s outstanding grassroots program.
The Grassroots Charter is a development tool that helps AFC member-nations raise the quality of their grassroots programs. Membership is granted to those who met 20 performance categories, such as grassroots competitions, fair play, partnerships, and personnel development. Members then get assistance from AFC to strengthen the program and continue its implementation.
“We are proud and honored to receive this recognition from AFC. This acknowledgement reflects our unwavering commitment to grow the sport in the CNMI and provide opportunities to our players, coaches, and officials. We thank everyone for helping NMIFA gain the bronze membership from the AFC Grassroots Charter,” NMIFA president Jerry Tan said.
“The bronze membership granted to the CNMI means that AFC has acknowledged that the grassroots football program which has been implemented here over the years met the international standards. It has been acknowledged that the CNMI has created a safe and good environment where everyone, regardless of age, gender, ability or disability, can play the sport,” said NMIFA technical director Michiteru Mita, who prepared the CNMI’s application with the assistance of NMIFA executive director Ruselle Zapanta.
NMIFA got the nod of AFC for having consistent local competitions and events for youth (the spring and fall leagues, interscholastic, P.E. support, and festivals) and adults (M-League and Dove Women’s League) and other featured events that cater to all players. The association also regularly sends its national teams to AFC tournaments and other international competitions, making sure the CNMI players are able to play in high-level events after going through rigorous training sessions. Year-round competitions draw more than 1,700 players from more than 50 teams.
NMIFA is able to hold these competitions through its partnership with both the private and public sectors—the CNMI Office of the Governor, CNMI Public School System, Saipan Soccer School, the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, Triple J Motors, TanHoldings, Dove, and kit sponsor SFIDA. NMIFA also works on projects and activities through the support of the AFC and East Asian Football Federation and its fellow member associations, particularly the Japan Football Association and Guam Football Association.
All the activities under NMIFA’s grassroots development program would not be possible without the help of coaches, referees, and other officials, who undergo training and certification courses to further their knowledge about the sport and learn how they can effectively perform their respective duties.
Capping off the significant strides that NMIFA has made in the last decade was last year’s construction of the NMI Soccer Training Center in Koblerville—a first of its kind in the CNMI—providing players and other stakeholders a safer and appropriate facility to hold their games, trainings, and other community events.
“The sight of the completed project made the CNMI public ‘buy-in’ to the objectives of why NMIFA wants to develop football locally,” NMIFA general secretary Ross Zapanta said. “With such expectations, the AFC Grassroots Charter membership will be very significant, as we are hoping to enhance our grassroots development with focus on quality.”
Mita, on the other hand, said that the AFC recognition will further encourage the CNMI football community to keep its commitment with the sport.
“Having seen the grassroots football program in the last two and a half years, I can say that NMIFA and its supporters have done a lot for developing football with genuine passion, dedication, and creativity, despite our limited manpower. Our hard work has been positively recognized and we are on the right track. I want to convey my heartfelt congratulations to everyone who has been involved in this program,” Mita said.
“This is a milestone for us. NMIFA will continue to work hard and make sure that more and more kids get to know the joy of football, play in a safe environment, and continue to play throughout their lifetime,” he added. (NMIFA)