Friday, 26 April 2013

Interview #6 (April 2013): Palau Football Asssociation president Charles Mitchell.

With the 4th smallest population in the world Palau are one of a tiny handful of countries who remain outside the FIFA family. Spread over thousands of square miles in the Pacific Ocean the republic gained independence as recently as 1994, but the Palau Football Association was not set up until May 2002. Charles Mitchell arrived on Palau in 2007 having been raised in America where he played college football in San Diego. Mitchell began working with the PFA shortly after he moved to Koror, the capital, and is currently in charge of the association as well as the national team. When Mitchell arrived on the islands football was almost non-existent but together with a committed group of volunteers the league has been revived and an inter-island youth tournament created. 5 teams took part in the 2012 domestic season with Taj running out winners of the fall league after they saw off New Stars in the playoff final. 


Sunset...Taj take on New Stars in the 2012 play-off final
On the international front much mystery and confusion surrounds Palauan football. The PFA was formerly an associate member of the Oceania Football Confederation, a membership that seemingly expired in the immediate years after their formation in 2002.  However, the OFC released a statement after their 2006 congress saying that Palau had been admitted as "new associate members". This lack of clarity is only further clouded by the fact that the PFA are currently very much not a member of the OFC. Much intrigue surrounds the national team too, a statisticians wonder as they sit bottom of the non-FIFA rankings. Their only outings to date came in the 1998 Micronesia games, which they hosted, but in the only 2 games which could be classed as internationals they were crushed 15-2 by Guam and 12-1 by the Northern Mariana Islands respectively. Little is known of this team other than they were managed by an American and that Stephen Stefano, a name Mitchell can’t locate anywhere, was the star player.

In September 2009 an East Asian Football Federation press release included the news that the PFA had requested to become a quasi-member of the organisation, suggesting Palau were attempting to join FIFA via the Asian Football Confederation much like their Pacific cousins the Northern Marianas are in the process of doing. This intrigued non-FIFA observers but, typically, this request was never heard of again and 4 years on there was no news from the EAFF on the Palauan plea for help. In a further twist to the tale the Palau National Olympic Committee made the shock call last year to tell the PFA that they must join the OFC, not the EAFF. 

We spoke to Charles Mitchell to find out the difficulties of his job, and to learn what the future held for his association and national team.


NFFU: Last year the Palau National Olympic Committee told your association that you must join the OFC, instead of the EAFF which you attempted to become quasi-members of in 2009. Why did they make this decision?

CM: The Olympic Committee weren't actually aware that we could apply to join the EAFF, so they made this decision.

NFFU: What was your reaction to this call by the Palau NOC? Would you have rather tried to join the EAFF like Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands?

CM: My first reaction was confusion because of the situation with the Guam National Olympic Committee. They are part of Oceania but Guam Football Association are members of the EAFF.

NFFU: So how have your attempts to join the OFC gone? Have you had good correspondence and communication with them?
PCC Track & Field Stadium...the only ground in Palau

CM: There has been no response on the OFC end. We've tried to contact them many times and still we get no response from them.

NFFU: So I guess you aren’t hopeful of becoming OFC members soon?

CM: No. Also, after explaining to the Olympic Committee regarding the EAFF, the OFC does not seem a reasonable option anymore. The Olympic Committee have actually now given us the green light to apply to the EAFF. Once we establish a youth league or programme, then we will re-apply.

NFFU:  Palau’s only international outings came at the 1998 Micronesia Games. Football is yet to be confirmed as a sport at the 2014 finals in Pohnpei (Micronesia), but if it is do you plan on taking a Palau team over?

CM: If Pohnpei confirm the sport then there is a high chance we will send a team over.

NFFU: Do you have any preliminary plans to take a national team to the Pacific Games in Papua New Guinea in 2015?

CMNot at this time no. It could be possible though.

NFFU: Are there many Palauan players competing in the league?

CM: At the moment 20% of the players competing in the Palau Football Association Adult League are Palauan. 

NFFU: What efforts have the PFA made to develop youth football on the islands?

CM: We are currently running an after-school camp which is well attended.  We also hope to start a league in the summer.
Future...Mitchell conducting one of the popular
after-school courses

NFFU: It’s great to see the Palau league running with a healthy number of teams.  Do you have any plans to expand the league in the future?

CM: Yes we do. There is interest from the Nepalese community on the island and they will put forth a team next season.

NFFU: LA Galaxy defender Sean Franklin recently provided the PFA with some help. What sort of donations did he give and how did you get in touch with him?

CM: Sean provided youth shin-guards and cones. He's a friend of mine – back in California we were teammates at college.

NFFU: We understand football was in a state of despair when you arrived in Palau, how have you managed to get the sport back on track? How hard is it to raise money?

CM: Mainly by staying consistent with the programs and slowly developing them. Our biggest way to raise funds is the after-school camps and leagues. Official fundraisers are still in development.

NFFU: Do you know of any Palauan players based overseas?

CM: Not at this moment I don’t, no.
Hopeful...Mitchell beleives FIFA
membership will happen

NFFU: What do you think the next 2 years have in store for the PFA?

CM: The plan is a formed national team, a new youth league and stronger administration.

NFFU: Finally, do you have confidence that you will become FIFA members one day?

CM: Yes I think one day.

3 comments:

  1. Very insightful BKE

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the insight. This is pretty exculsive

    ReplyDelete