Beach volleyball athletes shine the spotlight on island peril
On a beautiful day in Birmingham, the Tuvalu beach volleyball team of Saaga Malosa and Ampex Isaac had fans and officials roaring with their skills and smiles.
The duo from the small Pacific island nation were beaten by Cypriot pair Antonios Liotatis and Charalambos Zorbis 21-13, 21-17 in an entertaining match where they fought hard in the second set.
In the pool matches against England, New Zealand and Cyprus, they failed to win a set, although they did play particularly well at times against the Kiwis and Cypriots.
Their presence at the Commonwealth Games has generated great interest, mainly because of the peril their nation faces, but also from a sporting point of view.
It’s been almost 10 months since Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister Simon Kofe’s speech at the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow captured the world’s attention.
Dressed in a suit and tie and standing at a lectern set up in the sea, with his pants rolled up, Kofe warned of the threat of rising sea levels caused by climate change that Tuvalu posed.
Rising sea levels and severe storms threaten the Tuvalu Islands, which dot the Solomon Sea, and there are fears the nation of 12,000 could become uninhabitable.
Isaac, who works in construction, hopes that doesn’t happen, cheerfully declaring on Wednesday that “it won’t sink” the world’s third-smallest nation.
But he is aware there is a problem, with some ranges narrowing, and understands that Tuvalu athletes have an opportunity to add insight into the issues raised by Kofe.
“There’s a sea level rise. It’s happening everywhere,” he said.
Marty Collins, an Australian volleyball coach who has worked with the Tuvalu pair for the past 12 weeks, said Kofe’s speech inspired him to offer a helping hand.
Raised in Brisbane and coaching in a Danish league for much of the year, Collins said he spoke to both players and senior officials in Tuvalu about the threat to the nation.
“Before I had anything to do with these guys, I remember seeing this footage of him standing in the water and giving this speech about where he used to play as a kid,” he said. he declares. “Now it’s underwater. It was a very powerful image for me. That’s why I was happy to come on board and work with this country while it’s still here.
“(I speak) more with the older generations,” he continued. “They’re a little more open about it and talk a little more about what it was like when they were kids and places that aren’t there anymore.”
Beyond the importance of climate issues, having the opportunity to participate in such an important event as the Commonwealth Games is also important for young people in Tuvalu.
Isaac and Malosa, who is a fisherman, are more sportsmen than activists. They love their sport.
But they rarely have the opportunity to do anything other than train. Isaac, who is 25, represented his nation for six years but played only six tournaments during that time.
At this stage, their next match will not take place until the South Pacific Games next November in the Solomon Islands.
Isaac is hopeful talk of invitations to play overseas more regularly will materialize and cited their improvement this week as a benefit of being allowed to compete.
“It was a good game against Cyprus. Maybe our best this week. We feel so excited. I think our people should be happy,” he said. “It’s the first time for our country in this sport to reach this level and to be here. It’s an incredible achievement. Maybe they are proud of us.
Collins, who hails from Ipswich on the outskirts of Brisbane and has represented Australia at university level, will return to work with the Tuvalu combination next year.
Collins believes beach volleyball has a real opportunity to make big strides in developing countries given the lower costs compared to other ball sports.
Rwanda showed skill as they pushed defending Commonwealth Games champions Australia to advance to the quarter-finals on Wednesday.
The Oceania Zonal Volleyball Association hopes to provide more opportunities for Pacific nations, at the very least, Collins said.
“The idea is that there are four strong tournaments somewhere in Oceania,” he said. “Whether it’s Fiji, New Zealand or Australia, I hope there are a few tournaments they can go to. But obviously any trip is expensive. You need support. They just need a opportunity.
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