Football, the world’s most beloved sport, unites nations, cultures, and people from all walks of life. However, amid this global passion for the beautiful game, with almost every country having a standing national football team, there’s an exception: the Marshall Islands. This island nation, nestled in the Pacific, stands as the only country on Earth without a national football team. But times are changing, and the Marshallese people are looking to alter this unique status.
The Marshall Islands have a history intertwined with the United States. During World War Two, these volcanic islands served as a strategic location for American nuclear tests. It was only in 1986 that they achieved sovereignty, becoming a nation in their own right.
The Marshall Islands in World War Two via BBC
In the present day, the Marshall Islands are striving to break into the world of football. Their goal is not just to create a football team but to make it competitive on the global stage. At the helm of this ambitious venture is Englishman Lloyd Owers, who has been appointed as the technical director for the country.
Owers shared his journey with the BBC, describing how this venture took shape. “It started via emails, then it became easier to speak via WhatsApp because of the time difference,” he explained. “Then it got to the stage where I was asked to put together a proposal alongside my own philosophy on how I saw the game growing.”
Owers continued, “On a personal level, it was the opportunity to be part of something as significant as this—the only nation in the world without a defined national team. But it was also the ambition of it. The federation wants to be part of the OFC, but also wants to eventually become a FIFA member. They don’t just want to be playing against local countries; they want to be part of a bigger program.”
He added, “We know we want to be part of World Cup qualifiers. We want to be part of the OFC Championship, we want to be part of mainstream football. I think in 10 years, if we keep going the way the federation wants to push their aims and ambitions, there’s no reason that wouldn’t happen.”
Marshall Islands technical director Lloyd Owers
The Marshall Islands aim to use their football team as a platform to draw global attention to the pressing issue of climate change. Rising sea levels and environmental challenges threaten their homeland. The federation has already unveiled their first football shirt, a symbol of hope that Marshallese players will wear during their inaugural game, scheduled for summer 2024.
The Marshall Islands’ journey into the world of football is a story of determination and ambition. As they venture into the global football community, they hope to bring attention to the vital issue of climate change, showcasing the vulnerability of their island nation to the world. Stay tuned for their remarkable journey, which has the potential to change not only the face of football but also the world’s awareness of climate-related challenges.