A Vast Potential - Mongolian Steppe Overs
Christopher KL Lau
Mongolia is at once desolate, stark, bleak and isolated as it is stunning, beautiful, rugged and friendly. It is a country of extreme contrasts and mystery. The land and its people are intricately connected and the people of Mongolia are as tough as the terrain that they occupy yet radiate a kindness and neighborly warmth like no other in the world.
Mongolia football, like the country itself, is full of potential though still far from reaching the great heights it could. Mongolian football is still in its early developmental stage and although the Mongolian Football Federation was founded in 1959, the Mongolian national team "The Blue Wolves" were not affiliated with FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation until 1998!
Most other Asian nations had joined as far back at the fifties and the sixties so it is safe to say that Mongolia needs to catch up.
Mongolia are currently ranked 185 in the world in the FIFA Rankings and reached their highest placing of 160 in August 2011. The Mongolian league is known as the Niislel League and the current champions are Erchim; the league is comprised of mainly local players and a smattering of foreign imports.
The Mongolian Football Federation are making the correct steps towards professionalism and in July 2013, hosted a one-month "Children-Football-Future" grassroots project that culminated in a one-day festival in celebration of Asian Football Confederation’s Grassroots Year 2013.
With their project partner ‘MCS Coca Cola’ LLC, the Federation organized the events for children aged between six and twelve to promote a greater level of interest and participation amongst Mongolian youths. With the help of FIFA, new pitches are being constructed, old ones renovated and training is being given to referees and coaches to take Mongolian football to the next level.
Mongolia follows the pattern of other developing nations in terms of sports; there is wealth of talent to be found at youth level and on the streets. Like their counterparts in Europe, Africa and South America, Mongolian youth love football and dream of greater opportunities beyond their circumstances.
Mongolians are famed for their horse riding and wrestling skills yet football is clearly the most popular participation and viewing sport for this sports loving populace. Such is the unifying strength of global football, that even in the most isolated areas of Mongolia, people know about Messi, Real Madrid, Ronaldo, Manchester United and all the big, global teams.
Unfortunately due to the lack of proper infrastructure and financial resources, Mongolian football clearly has not hit the heights it is so capable of. Even though Mongolia has seen a greater level of foreign investment through the oil and mining industries, this new injection of wealth has not seeped down to the overall general population.
Extreme poverty is a marked part of everyday life and the statistics are harrowing; thirty six percent of all Mongolians live below the poverty line and thirty percent of Mongolians do not have access to safe water.
Added to the freezing cold winters which can see temperatures drop to minus thirty and forty celsius then the opportunities for Mongolian kids to develop and build upon their sporting capabilities are drastically reduced.
The majority of children are expected to work from a young age to support their families. Sadly in extreme cases, children are seen as a burden and are released to the harsh streets of the capital, Ulaan Baatar, to fend for themselves.
Once children are lost to the streets, it becomes a matter of survival and the basic needs, such as shelter, food and drink, become a priority. Everything else such as education and sports, sadly, fades into the background.
One of the charities based in Mongolia helping Mongolian street children to regain a more stable position in life is Flourishing Future. It was established in 2001 and its founders were Aase Simms from Norway, Susan Griffeth from the USA and Ruthild Beck from Germany.
In 2001, the doors opened to the first community center located in the heart of Mongolia's slum area called the "Ger" district. The goal was to meet the needs of the most impoverished families and prevent children from winding up on the streets of Ulaan Baatar.
Flourishing Future is reaching its target goal of intervening in the lives of families with the hope to prevent a child from ever having to live on the street. With donations from all over the world, they strive to provide many essential services such as providing food and shelter for abandoned children.
Monkhuu and Akhar show off their soccer skills
Today, the organization is overseen by Troy and Shari Tvrdik from the USA, and Siew Ling Low from Singapore with a full Mongolian staff who have a passion for their country and the ger district community.
The second community center is in the process of being built in another impoverished ger district of Ulaan Bataar, the coldest capital city in the world! Every child saved from the street has a greater chance to fulfill their potential in life, be it in academics, the arts or sports.
Mongolian football, like the country itself, has a wealth of talent and resources, which simply needs the correct guidance and infrastructure in order to reach the newer heights. Hopefully with a greater level of professionalism, the "Blue Wolves" will find their bite and make an impact on the world stage.
For more information on Flourishing Future, please go here:
To donate to Flourishing Future, please go here: www.flourishingfuture.com/#!donate/c1ghi
© Chris Lau & Soccerphile.com