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The Just Play program uses football to deliver key messages / Credit: OFCJustPlay/2015/Wenzlick/Samoa


By Melissa Palombi, Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) Social Responsibility Programme Manager

First published May 2020. 

Long before coronavirus arrived, Just Play, a sport for development program designed and delivered by the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) in the Pacific region, has been helping children to recover from emergencies using football.

As the most disaster-prone regions of the world, the Pacific has been affected by more than 50 natural disasters since 2009. With the possibility of devastating tropical cyclones between November and April annually, volcanic eruptions, flash flooding, landslides and earthquakes, the region is on constant stand-by to respond to states of emergencies for any number of countries, at any time.  Ensuring that programming models are versatile and can be delivered on a regular basis and in times of need, is critical.

In 2015, OFC developed and delivered the Just Play Emergency Programme as part of the Vanuatu government’s consolidated response to Tropical Cyclone Pam – a category 5 super storm, which affected more than half the country’s population, including 82,000 children spread across 22 islands.  Using Just Play’s existing network of coaches, schools and communities, the newly developed emergency program allowed Just Play to quickly adapt and respond – using football to support the emotional recovery of children following the cyclone.

In an area of the world where access to information is restricted by poor internet, television and radio penetration, and vast distances – half a million children are spread across 17.2 million square kilometres of ocean – programs like Just Play are extremely important.

With a ball, a coach and a safe place to play, Just Play is used at times of emergencies as a unique communications platform, teaching children in remote island locations: 

  • How to make sure their drinking water is clean
  • Understand the importance of handwashing 
  • How to prevent the spread of germs
  • Keep their food safe 
  • Where safe places in their community are for them to play, learn and find extra support after a natural disaster  
Sport for development programs provide an opportunity for children to share their experiences following a disaster. / OFCJustPlay/2017/Palombi/Vanuatu
Just Play uses football to help children recover from emergencies. / OFCJustPlay/2017/Palombi/Vanuatu

By encouraging children to share their experiences through storytelling and drawings, Just Play coaches help children to understand how their community will recover.  With support from partners like the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), coaches are also trained to identify and refer children who need additional support to recover.  

Helping children to feel safe and return to their normal routine after any emergency is an important part of the recovery process.  With this understanding, Just Play delivers its program in phases, following the natural evolution of the response and recovery process.  

Since it was launched, Just Play has helped more than 16,000 children to emotionally recover following natural disasters in Fiji, India, Tonga and Vanuatu.  


One of the biggest challenges facing the program today is – How can we adapt our emergency programming model to reach children on remote islands throughout the Pacific, who do not have access to internet and mobile devices?  Without face-to-face delivery, the program is being challenged to see how it can once again adapt to ensure that every day is a Just Play day for children across the Pacific.

The Just Play Programme is delivered in 11 Pacific Island countries and India, with the generous support of the Australian and New Zealand Governments, Football Australia, the UEFA Foundation for Children and UNICEF.  The Just Play Emergency Programme was shortlisted for the Beyond Sport Innovation Award in 2016.  

This article was written by Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) Social Responsibility Program Manager Melissa Palombi in response to the International Platform on Sport and Development's call for articles, and is reproduced with their kind permission.

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Credit: OFC/UEFA Foundation

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