Banaban Voice

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AFL Australia 17 January 2009

Country snapshot

The tiny island nation of Nauru, located in the South Pacific Ocean north of the Solomon Islands, is just 21 square kilometres in area.

A coral atoll of around 13,000 people, Nauru's isolation has led to the development of a native tongue unlike any other Polynesian language.

Nauru's economy has been based on phosphate mining and coconut products.

Famous for: we're not sure. But how about this: Angam Day, celebrated on October 26, means 'homecoming' and commemorates the various stages in Nauru's history when the population has returned to 1500, the minimum number of people believed necessary for survival of the community.

Australian football history

Australian football has been played by Nauruan school children since the 1930s, when students attended secondary schools in Victoria, and is so popular it is considered Nauru's national sport (alongside weightlifting).

The Nauru Australian Football Association has eight football clubs, who have adopted the names and colours of their favourite Australian-based teams.

Around 200 senior players and a further 500 juniors play footy. Despite coming from such a small nation, Nauru's national Australian football side, the Chiefs, have experienced plenty of success, including a gold medal at the 2001 Arafura Games in Darwin. The Chiefs finished eighth out of 11 nations in the 2002 International Cup, and were a late withdrawal in 2005.

National jumper
Blue and gold featuring the 12-point star of the national flag.

Mr Football
Football has such a grip on Nauruans that several locals may become inadvertent "Mr Footballs" by virtue of their names.

Minister for Sport, the Hon. Mathew Batsiua, revealed it was not unusual for parents to name their children after well-known Australian players.

"There's at least one Jesaulenko here and you'll even find a local Akermanis in our community," he said.

Secret Weapon

"Pure pace," according to Chiefs coach Wes Illig.

Nauruans are naturals at footy because...

Though small in stature, Nauruans are fast and athletic, giving them a gifted ability for football. Plus, it's clearly in their blood – they call their kids Jesaulenko, for goodness' sake.

Chief of Chiefs

"We've got plenty of characters," says Illig. "They're all different characters because they're a different group, they speak a different language, they've got different customs. So when you get 17 of them together, they are just different."

So we get that the Chiefs are, well ... different. Apparently the most "different" is Spanner, one of the older members of the squad, who is larger than life. (And Spanner is his actual surname).

Hardest thing about playing football in Nauru

Quite literally, the grounds. They are rocky, hard, and have no grass whatsoever.

Tactic for International Cup success

Given not one of the Chiefs is taller than 183cm, they need to play close to the ground, and are crossing their fingers for wet, wet, wet conditions. For a side not used to playing on grass, that shows guts.

Nauru Team List (.pdf)

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Comment by Formosa on January 20, 2009 at 10:29am
Thank u for the lovely and TOTALLY TRUE article on AFL in Nauru and the Nauru Chiefs - Beautiful photo there, I'm the #1 FAN of Johnny Tau (top left in light blue) and Vili-Kesa Jeremiah (centre)... I work with both of them and they are absolute angels!
Comment by Itinteang on January 17, 2009 at 6:14pm
Nice article but I would like to point out that Naurans are Micronesians just like us Banabans. They are not Polynesian speaking people.


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