NMI soccer hits milestone


The Northern Mariana Islands Football Association holds the AFC Women’s Football Day a week before sports competitions and other related events were either suspended or canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The AFC Women’s Football Day program has consistently drawn participation from hundreds of youth and adult players in the CNMI. (Contributed Photo)

Just when the year is about to end with the NMI sports community and the rest of the world still struggling to cope with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, an uplifting news came, as the Northern Mariana Islands Football Association was granted full membership status by the Asian Football Confederation.

With NMI soccer reaching yet another milestone, it is just fitting to make this achievement the top local sports story for 2020.

The NMIFA’s application for ordinary membership received overwhelming support from the AFC family, as it got all affirmative votes (40) during the virtual 30th AFC Congress last Dec. 9. The NMIFA took 12 long years to earn the AFC nod and it worth the wait, as the full membership status does not only provide hope at these challenging times, but also countless opportunities for NMI soccer.

With the upgraded membership status with AFC, NMIFA will continue to receive financial and technical assistance from the confederation. This means more competitions and skill-development opportunities for national players, coaches, and officials; increase in number of facilities and improvement of the present ones; and further strengthening of NMIFA’s grassroots, interscholastic, youth, women’s, men’s, and club programs.

After being granted full membership status, NMIFA vows to work harder as it continues its journey and eye its next destination—FIFA membership. Admittance into the world government body of football is every federation’s dream and NMIFA hopes it will take them shorter than 12 years to reach that goal.

“When we become a FIFA member, it will be great to see our CNMI national team compete in the World Cup qualifier. Someday, we hope to fulfill that dream,” NMIFA president Jerry Tan said after the NMIFA was granted full membership by the AFC.

Pacific Mini Games moved to 2022

Nearly a month after the CNMI government reaffirmed its commitment for the Commonwealth’s hosting of the Pacific Mini Games, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the islands, bringing uncertainties to the fate of the regional competition.

Saipan is supposed to host the Mini Games next year and with the CNMI focusing its resources and attention to combating the spread of the pandemic, thoughts on having quadrennial event scrapped or postponed circulated around the Pacific region.

2022 Pacific Mini Games Organizing Committee chair Rep. Marco Peter (R-Saipan), bottom screen shot, talks to Pacific Games Council chief executive officer Andrew Minogue during the virtual Northern Mariana Sports Association General Assembly last month at the Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan. (Roselyn B. Monroyo)

The host nation chose the latter, as the CNMI government and the Northern Marianas Sports Association announced last October the new dates for the Mini Games, which will now be held from June 17 to 25 in 2022.

NMSA has also requested to the Pacific Games Council and Pacific Games Association the inclusion of tennis and weightlifting to the Mini Games program.

With the new schedule secured, the Commonwealth continued to move forward with its preparations for the Mini Games hosting by forming the 2022 Pacific Mini Games Organizing Committee. Rep. Marco Peter (R-Saipan) is the committee’s chair and will be joined on the group by representatives from both the public and private sectors.

MRA returns home

The Marianas Racing Association has successfully revived motocross in the CNMI this year, paving its way back to its old home.

The Marianas Motocross Park was signed over to MRA in October after months working with the Department of Public Lands, the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Office of the Governor. The facility is now being built exactly at the same location where the former CowTown Raceway is at, allowing the NMI motocross family to return to its old turf after more than a decade.

Marianas Racing Association riders navigate the course at the former CowTown Raceway last Sunday. (Joseph Chin)

Before getting back to CowTown, MRA has held practice and regular races at the Kan Pacific grounds for months to draw back interest in the sport. As of this writing, MRA has nearly 200 members—more than doubling the membership since the group was formed late last year— and it hopes to welcome more next year when they host competitions at the Marianas Motocross Park.

With completion of the new raceway slated early next year, MRA will still hold some of its races at the temporary course across the Mariana Resort & Spa and will also regularly utilize CowTown to familiarize its rider with the more challenging course.

NMSA under new leadership

Change in leadership marked the start of 2020 for Northern Marianas Sports Association.

Northern Mariana Islands Football Association president Jerry Tan was elected to the NMSA board and was later voted as its head. Joining Tan on the NMSA board are vice president Ramon Tebuteb of the Northern Mariana Islands Athletics, secretary Val Hofchneider of the NMI Paddling Sports Federation, treasurer John Hirsh of the NMI Swimming Federation and directors Laurie Peterka, James Lee, and Lia Rangamar.

Northern Marianas Sports Association president Jerry Tan, third left, poses with NMSA board members, other participants in the strategic planning workshop, and FISU Oceania secretary general Donna Spethman, who virtually facilitated the event held at the Hyatt Regency Ballroom last September. (Contributed Photo)

With the new leadership in place, NMSA has been working on continuing the projects former president Mike White and executive director Tony Rogolifoi have started. These includes the repair and improvement projects at the Oleai Sports Complex after federal grants were approved for the facilities that sustained significant damage from super typhoons Soudelor and Yutu.

Though the process to proceed with the project has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NMSA has started working on minor improvements at the main sports hub on the island, clearing the weights room, repainting the Gilbert C. Ada Gymnasium, and fixing its office and restrooms. Lights have been installed with the help of the grant secured by the Saipan Mayor’s Office, while parking lots have been cleared for the safety of the public.

More challenges await NMSA, especially in the next two years, as it works with the CNMI government, the 2022 Pacific Mini Games Organizing Committee, its member federations, and the community for the hosting of the quadrennial competition.

Canceled competitions, virtual events

With the COVID-19 pandemic began crippling the CNMI starting in March, majority of the sports competitions in the Commonwealth were either canceled or postponed.

After the Saipan Marathon in March, the Tagaman Triathlon, Marianas Cup, All Schools Track and Field Championships, CNMI Junior Tennis Championships, Northern Marianas ITF Junior Championships, Saipan Little League Baseball, and other annual events on island were scrapped from the 2020 calendar.

Despite these cancellations, the ever-active sports community found a way to go ahead with their favorite activities with the emergence of virtual events.

The “king” of virtual races on Saipan Edward Dela Cruz Jr. poses for a photo before his regular run at the Oleai Sports Complex track oval. (Roselyn B. Monroyo)

Runners/walkers were the busiest ones at this time of pandemic, as they joined virtual races (including duathlons) one after another. They “raced” in the Run The Marianas, Guam’s Go The Distance Challenge, Guam National Virtual Triathlon/Duathlon,Turkey Trot Run, Life in the Son Go the Xtra Mile Virtual Run/Walk Challenge, JP Hero Run, and a lot more.

There were some events that went ahead without joining the “virtual trend,” but safety protocols were observed and number of entries were limited. Northern Marianas Athletics had its interscholastic cross country season and the highly-anticipated Christmas Island Relay, while Northern Mariana Islands Cycling Federation hosted the shortened Hell of the Marianas, holding a 68-kilometer race, instead of the usual 100K.

The CNMI sports community is thankful that the islands is at Level Blue (second safest) in the vulnerability scale, as competitive and recreational athletes are still able to train and compete despite the restrictions. Athletes, coaches, and sports officials are looking forward to Level Green (safest) next year, as they prepare for the 2022 Pacific Mini Games, other signature events on island, and a few more regional competitions.

Roselyn Monroyo | Reporter
Roselyn Monroyo is the sports reporter of Saipan Tribune. She has been covering sports competitions for more than two decades. She is a basketball fan and learned to write baseball and football stories when she came to Saipan in 2005.

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