Maamendhoo Island Council calls for football funding to combat violence, drug abuse

A lack of support from the Ministry of Youth and Sports for youth activities, particularly football, on Maamendhoo Island in Laamu Atoll has resulted in violence and drug use according to the island council’s president.

“The government has not provided funds for youth sports or activities here, it’s very sad,” Maamendhoo Island Council President Ali Shifaz told Minivan News, during a visit to the island.

“Football, and other sports, are very important because we need our youth to be away from bad habits,” Shifaz explained.

“Youth getting involved in drugs and fighting is a big issue, but normally football players don’t get involved in those things,” he continued. “They have no other time for drugs and fights.”

“For the last two or three months there have been no fights because of football. It’s a good way to compete and Maamendhoo is very peaceful as a result,” Shifaz noted.

Ultimately, problems ebb and flow depending on the support for youth activities the island receives, explained Shifaz.

“Eighty percent of the island’s youth play football, therefore we need to have a big effort to support them,” he added.

Unfortunately, fighting between youth from Maamendhoo with young people of nearby islands has become a problem because positive activities are not being funded and supported on those islands either, according to Shifaz.

In early 2012 Nasheed pledged to flatten football ground, put up fences, build a basketball court behind the stadium, and a bashee court for the women, explained Shifaz.

The football ground was recently built on Maamendhoo, however the island has also requested a youth centre – with ‘garlando’ (foosball) and billiards – be built so other youth who do not play football will have activities that prevent them from engaging in ‘bad habits’.

“I’m involved with an NGO here and I hate to say it but now our NGOs are not working properly, because they are not getting what they need to function in a proper way,” Shifaz lamented.

Lack of footballs

“They have very good players, I was very impressed,” former Victory Sports Club coach Abul ‘Abjee’ Jaleel told Minivan News.

“If youth team wants anything we discuss with the Island Council and they call the Ministry of Youth and Sports,” said Maamendhoo football player Mohamed ‘Kalho’ Nasheed.

“Before during [former President Mohamed] Nasheed’s time the ministry provided funding, but now we don’t get anything,” he explained.

“To buy balls the players contributed their own money. The sports team really collaborates,” he continued.

Previously the Maamendhoo football players only had one ball, but have managed to buy eight. They have also arranged a coach to come about three times a week, but there are no funds for his equipment either.

“There also used to be an atoll football competition, but this year there has been nothing,” Kalho lamented.

Youth and Sports Ministry response

“Maamendhoo happens to be the first island we helped after we assumed office early last year,” Youth and Sports Minister Mohamed Hussein ‘Mundu’ Shareef told Minivan News.

“The ministry contributed MVR 80,000 (US$5200) for the construction of the Maamendhoo football ground which was completed last year,” said Shareef. “So the allegations [that Maamendhoo is not receiving support from the Ministry] are rubbish.”

“Rather than complaining they should be pleased,” he added. “It was a long-pending pledge by Nasheed to develop the football ground which was not delivered.”

“It is a petty political problem or they have a short term memory,” said Shareef. “There are no pending requests from Maamendhoo, if there were it would be a different story.”

Shareef explained that he made it a point to review and implement all the pending pledges and corresponding paperwork for the sake of continuity.

“It’s not the fault of the youth that the government changed,” said Shareef. “We don’t differentiate between big and small islands or look at the political leanings of the island councils.”

In the past 15 to 16 months the Youth and Sports Ministry has helped 87 islands, which account for half the population, according to Shareef.

“There is not a single island we have not touched,” he declared.

The entire Youth and Sports Ministry’s budget for the past year was MVR 60 million (US$3,911,340), with MVR 20 million (US$ 1,303,780) allocated to associations – of which 19 are sports associations, according to Shareef.

Previously, MVR 2 million (US$ 130,378) was the total infrastructure budget, which the government quadrupled to MVR 8 million (US$ 521,512) this year, Shareef claimed.

Island football grounds are legally properties of the respective island councils and the Ministry funds the island councils, which are ultimately responsible for the development and maintenance of the grounds, Shareef explained.