FIFA, AFC help revive football in Indonesia

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Soccer's international governing body (FIFA) and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) are financing repairs to facilities in Indonesia.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:50 IST
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Banda Aceh:

A maze of drainage ditches, water pipes and mounds of dirt crisscross the pitch at Banda Aceh's Lampineung Stadium, home of the Persiraja football club. The stands are mostly stacks of warped boards, which dozens of construction workers are removing in preparation for a major renovation. Soccer's international governing body (FIFA) and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) are financing repairs to the facilities in preparation for the team's return to the Indonesian 1st Division for the first time since last year's undersea quake, tsunami and subsequent relief operations devastated the site. "We have to thank FIFA for helping us in our time of need," said Burhanudin Amin, a Persiraja official supervising the works on the monsoon-drenched stadium. "Without them, this club would have died in the tsunami." The 15,000-seat Lampineung Stadium was badly damaged by the earthquake that struck a year ago on Dec. 26. The huge wave that spread across the provincial capital also washed over the field, leaving only the forlorn-looking goalposts standing. Spanish and other foreign troops, who arrived a few days later with heavy equipment to help with rescue and relief operations, further damaged the site. They bivouacked at the stadium, setting up makeshift warehouses for humanitarian supplies on the pitch. Big effort As the rescue effort gradually wound down, FIFA and the AFC launched a $10.5 million Tsunami Solidarity Fund for soccer infrastructure reconstruction in the affected areas. This included financing for numerous projects in Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Thailand, where a Tsunami Memorial Football Center will be built. In the Maldives, relief financing was directed into repairs to the damaged headquarters of the national soccer body and its training center, while in Sri Lanka 13 separate reconstruction projects were funded. FIFA and the AFC also sent delegates to set in motion coaching and refereeing courses, and soccer clinics for homeless kids as well as local tournaments were set up. Still, there has not been a single official match in Aceh since the tsunami, and the three teams that used to play in Indonesia's 1st, 2nd and 3rd Divisions are hoping to return to national competitions when they resume in February. In preparation for this, he Tsunami Solidarity Fund is also financing repairs to soccer pitches in the outlying towns of Bireun and Langsa. Helping hand Nuzuli Ibrahim, deputy head of the Indonesian Sports Confederation in Aceh, said that despite the help received so far, and the insistence of the national soccer body that Acehnese clubs should return to competition, it was still difficult to reconstruct the teams and get the players motivated to participate. "The teams are not back to speed." "Players have not played in a long time, coaches have left, stadiums are still unfinished and money is short to support the program," he said. But on an optimistic note, Ibrahim said help was still arriving, sometimes in unexpected forms. "For instance, Bosnia – another country familiar with tragedy – had just offered to send a coach, and maybe a couple of players to help out Persiraja with its return to league competition," he said. (AP)