KIRIBATI - The tiny Pacific nation of Kiribati has caught basketball fever. The country made up of 33 atolls, reef islands and one raised coral island has fallen in love with the sport.
The people of Kiribati are not playing for accolades or trophies, instead, the community basketball teams from Kiribati's main island Tarawa, deciding to 'bring a plate' to finals day, so a feast of chicken, beef, rice and vegetables awaits the victorious team.
It’s not just office workers who are getting involved, barefoot players line the court in Teaoraereke Village, patiently waiting to get their chance to play. Many trying to get a game before the sun set behind the palm trees lining the court.
Basketball has captured the imagination and passion of people all over Kiribati.
A big reason for the recent popularity is the KBF Hoops for Health (H4H) program, supported by FIBA.
"I am so proud as a Kiribati citizen,” commented KBF’s Tekabara Raurenti to ABC’s Aaron Kearney. “I am so proud to see my fellow islanders entertained and involved and playing basketball and other sports."
“I am so proud to see my fellow islanders entertained and involved and playing basketball and other sports."
"Before we used to have only a few people playing basketball but now we can see there's a lot more participation."
Alongside Tebanimaneka Primary School, in a clearing under the palm trees, lies what might be the most picturesque basketball court on the planet.
The KBF’s Iotia Paul has been working with the H4H program for some time now, but before this, he was known for his key role on the Kiribati national team since 2003. Better known as Joe, he now helps the KBF bring the game to the school children of Kiribati.
"I try to motivate them," Joe told ABC’s Aaron Kearney.
"To tell them sport is a key to success for them. That they should be a part of it."
"I'm just trying to share what I have learned. It makes me fit, active and strong and not just lazy. It brings me a healthy life."
For evidence of the impact the KBF is having on the people of Kiribati, look no further than Dr. Sam Teeta.
In a previous story ‘Kiribati Basketball Federation reconnecting people to the game’ we were told the story of a local dentist who had lost his connection to basketball.
Dr Sam Teeta, a senior dental officer at the Tungaru Central Hospital, has first-hand knowledge about the health issues surrounding Kiribati. He also knows the power that basketball has the help the people of Kiribati.
"I used to play back in high school," Dr. Teeta revealed to ABC’s Aaron Kearney.
"A basketball court is close to my house but I would hardly go there."
After some absence from the sport he once loved, Dr. Teeta has rejoined the sport thanks to the KBF’s Inter-Ministry 3x3 Basketball Tournament where government workers go head-to-head in half-court games of three-on-three.
"For those who haven't had time to play, it gives them the chance to play with other workers.”
"It is interesting and fun. It gives us time to play and unite with colleagues from other ministries and get along, and sweat out all the fat that's been stored."
Health and life expectancy in Kiribati are among the poorest in the Pacific region.
The KBF is no stranger to this fact and is working hard to change it.
"Playing sport is the most important thing," commented Jo.
Through the support of FIBA and the Australian Government’s Pacific Sports Partnership program, the KBF is helping the rest of Kiribati realise the potential and power of sport.