Tuvalu's beach volleyball team Saaga Malosa (right) and Ampex Isaac face huge challenges just to train
Birmingham (United Kingdom) (AFP) - ‘Tu, tu, Tuvalu’ echoed around the beach volleyball stadium at the Commonwealth Games as spectators shouted their support for the team from the tiny Pacific island nation on the frontline of climate change.
One of the most striking images from last year’s UN climate summit in Glasgow was a film of Tuvalu foreign minister Simon Kofe standing in the sea.
He stood in a suit at a lectern with his trousers rolled up to illustrate the “existential risks” for Tuvalu and other low-lying atoll nations from rising sea levels.
Physical changes to the islands, with a population of around 11,000, have impacted on the training regime of childhood friends Ampex Isaac and Saaga Malosa, who lost their men’s pool game to New Zealand on a drizzly evening in Birmingham.
Isaac and Malosa are forced to travel to another island to train while Tuvaluan rugby and football players are put through their paces on the air strip.
“Speaking to some of the older members of the Tuvalu team, they say a football pitch they once played on has just totally disappeared,” Tuvalu’s beach volleyball coach Marty Collins told AFP in Birmingham.
The Australian says the progress made by his charges is impressive given the restrictions they face.
“They only just got a beach volley court around four months ago with a training camp set up by the Tuvaluan assistant coach,” Collins said.
“They had to travel to another island as the main island the boys are from, there is no real space for a court. The beach is quite narrow and some beaches are no longer there.
“They have not had a court (on the main island) for a couple of years.
“They are losing space, the island is sinking so when some people might lose land they are given land where the court might have been.”
Isaac says what beach space there is on the main island is not suitable as it is “sloping”.
Tuvalu is also cursed by high unemployment, forcing Isaac, 25, and the baseball cap-wearing skipper Malosa, who is a year younger, to eke out a living.
“Saaga is a skin diver and goes spear-fishing,” said Collins. “He subsists on that by selling what he catches. Ampex picks up a bit of construction work when it is available.”
- ‘Proud moment’ -
Collins says Isaac and Malosa are “reserved guys” but they appeared to be enjoying themselves as they settled into their task in front of the vocal crowd in Birmingham.
Ampex Isaac is dreaming of playing beach volleyball at the 2024 Olympics in Paris
Their grins became broader and the slapping of hands more frequent as they battled back to level at 13-13 in the second set.
As Queen’s “I Want to Break Free” blared from the loudspeakers they dared to dream of an upset.
But the New Zealand pair pulled away to win the second set 21-17 and condemn the Tuvaluans to a second successive defeat.
Isaac was pleased they had not wilted under the glare of the floodlights.
“It is a very proud moment of course,” he said. “We were so happy the crowd was behind us.
“We are not used to crowds like this – we have never performed in front of so many people.
“Maybe it is the first time they heard of Tuvalu and that is why they were so happy.”
Isaac and Malosa have bigger dreams – of qualifying for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
Collins – who was called in by the international volleyball federation to coach the pair – says they are talented enough and, despite the huge costs of competing abroad, deserve to be “front and centre”.
One thing is for sure – Isaac and Malosa will have heard of the French capital, unlike the host city for the Commonwealths.
“We had heard of Aston Villa but we did not know it was in Birmingham,” said Isaac.