You are here

Small sports strategy: solving the sports space struggle of Kiribati

Copyrights: ABC: Aaron Kearney

Small sports strategy: solving the sports space struggle of Kiribati

The Pacific Island nation of Kiribati has one of the world's greatest population densities, which means space for sporting activities is at a premium. However, a clever sports strategy is shrinking the sports space required, meaning more opportunities to play.

A battle not only for sports supremacy in this Pacific Island nation, but a battle to find a place to play.

Kiribati, or more specifically its main island South Tarawa, is one of the most densely-populated places on Earth. With an estimated population of more than 60,000 crammed into about 12 square kilometres of habitable land, this piece of Kiribati is as crowded as the Chinese capital, Beijing.

The entire island is one continuous settlement, in many places north and south coastlines are both visible, and sprawling cricket grounds and rugby pitches are an unaffordable land luxury.

South Tarawa's four remaining soccer pitches are patches of dirt that only occasionally have lines marked and are the exclusive domain of alpha males in their teens and early 20s once the scorching daytime temperatures subside. Everyone else is scrapping to get a game or resigned to merely spectating

Midway along the coral atoll what was once the concrete floor of a house is now a makeshift football field. Nearby, a carpark becomes a volleyball court every time a vehicle vacates the space and in Betio, more than 20 players try to get a shot away in a half-court game of 3-on-3 basketball. The other half is being used for a futsal free-for-all.

"We only have two courts, so who is going to use it at what time?" asks Vicki Tauaa, articulating the logjam in her village. The Ministry of Environment Licensing officer is part of a new basketball tournament for government employees.

"It gets crowded and we don't have the courts to accommodate that many people. Everyone is always interested in learning new sports. They are always curious but that's always the thing, just getting the resources to do it."

- Vicki Tauaa

The Australian-Aid funded Pacific Sports Partnerships are attempting to alleviate the problem by serving up sports that require minimal space. Table tennis, basketball and athletics have all been running sport for development programs here, making the most of the suffocating spatial restrictions.

Table tennis has distributed tables around the island and a disability program is thriving.

Basketball runs the government employee or 'ministries' tournament, a sunset competition, school programs and the after-school 'Hoops for Health' initiative.

The programs require minimal space and offer maximum inclusion.


This story was produced by ABC International Development as part of the Pacific Sports Partnerships funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.


Article type



Thursday, December 15, 2016 - 11:28