Fuseworks Media: Auckland City FC team manager David Firisua and Solomon Islands international Micah Lea'alafa visited the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) last week while in Japan for the Club World Cup championship.
JICA has played a key role in reaching out to developing countries within the Asia-Pacific region with four key aims that include reducing poverty through equitable growth, improving governance and achieving human security.
Among their key strategies are providing integrated assistance, seamless assistance, promoting development partnerships and enhancing research and knowledge-sharing.
While the concepts appear complex when taken at face value, Firisua says the impact has been real, particularly in football in Oceania.
"The role JICA plays in the Pacific is they are a platform and agency through which the Japanese government through its various programmes sends specialists into the field.
"In the past sports experts, football coaches, were sent to the Solomon Islands and I benefited from such a programme directly when I played football in 1992.
"Kazanori Watanabe was sent to the Solomon Islands as assistant coach to Ian Riley and together they took the U-17 national team and it was the very first time we ever beat New Zealand.
"They formed a School of Excellence from which myself, Henry Fa'arodo, Vivian Wickham and George Suri all came from," he explained.
Firisua and Lea'alafa met with the Director-General of JICA, Yumiko Asakumi and senior advisor Hideaki Matsuoka in Yokohama to share their experiences.
"My understanding and how I see the Japanese are that they are a very cultured people who are at the top of their game in their technological advances while still holding on to their cultural values.
"We have similarities in that we hold on to our cultures while at the same time progressing and the impression we made was positive.
"Its been 24 years since I had a personal experience with JICA and I still remember what Kazanori did and our visit to thank them went a long way," he said.
Firisua and Lea'alafa took an Auckland City FC playing shirt along as a gift for Asakumi and Matusoka on behalf of the club and the pacific contingent at the club, a gesture that was well received.
"The first thing they noticed was the Hi-Chew logo and they asked about the connection and they asked about Morinaga and the connection they had with the club then they asked why we were here in Japan and we told them we were three games away from facing Real Madrid.
"For me I see the model JICA has in the pacific has addressing the economic and socio-economic issues that we have on various levels.
"The most important is that JICA understand the various economies we have in the pacific and the challenges that come with them.
"They realise that we are very different and specific needs a lot of our challenges are very common. They try to address the needs of the pacific. For example, 60 percent of the government budget is from foreign aid. They understand that.
"They try to build infrastructure that a country like the Solomon Islands, with very little international access to the markets, can start to develop," he said.
Firisua said that Auckland City FC is a club that because of its multi-cultural model is a great vehicle for players and administrators to better themselves.
"If you're a footballer in the pacific with ambitions to play at the highest level then at some point you will get a chance to play at Auckland City FC.
"If you never get an opportunity to play professionally Auckland City FC is the best club to be part of.
"Playing for this club exposes players to a different level of the game - the FIFA Club World Cup is a great example of that.
"Its a great platform from which to launch your career. If you're an administrator, like myself, it represents a great opportunity to extend your networks and build valuable relationships," he said.
The Malaitian-born Firisua built his career first as an international footballer for his country but honed, refined and sharpened his career with the Oceania Football Confederation as head of competitions between 2009 and 2014.
"Working for the Oceania Football Confederation was a great opportunity for me and I learned a lot from a great many people in my time with the organisation.
"The job was very challenging but I'm grateful for every opportunity I was lucky enough to enjoy over the seven or so years I was there.
"To take the skills I learned and continue to apply them as a sports administrator now is something I will always cherish," he said.
Firisua said the list of Oceania players to come through the club only serves to prove the value proposition gained by turning out in its Navy Blue colours.
"Roy Krishna came through Waitakere United, then Auckland City FC, before going on to play for the Wellington Phoenix. Micah is in his second year with the club and Henry Fa'arodo has also played here and is now the Technical Director at the Solomon Islands Football Federation.
"Vivian Wickham, who I mentioned before, had ties with Central United and has gone on to become marketing executive for one of the biggest breweries in the Solomon Islands.
"Papua New Guinea's David Browne spent his formative years here and is now playing in Dutch football while Reggie Davani also won two New Zealand Football Championship titles with the club from 2004 onwards.
"The opportunities at this club to launch a professional career as a player or behind the desk as an administrator are very real if you're prepared to work hard," he said.