Saaga Malosa and Ampex Isaac could be forgiven for not being too concerned by talk of the relevance of the Commonwealth – or these Games. They are more worried for the future of their nation.
Tuvalu – population 11,931 – is the third smallest country in the world, behind only Nauru and Vatican City. Compromised of just nine islands and thinly-populated atolls, it faces extinction because of climate change.
Rising seas and deadly storms have started to swamp the islands, specks in the Solomon Sea, and fears are growing that Tuvalu will be soon uninhabitable or may vanish completely.
There is even an emergency plan to evacuate the entire country to a few uninhabited islands that currently belong to Fiji.
All of which puts a 21-10, 21-12 defeat to England’s Javier and Joaquin Bello in the beach volleyball preliminary rounds into rather stark contrast.
“In these guys’ lifetime if nothing changes their homeland simply won’t be there anymore,” said Tuvalu’s coach Marty Collins.
“They don’t want to move their country, they want to stay where they are because they’ve their own language, culture and customs. We just hope them playing here is putting a face to the name of the stark situation we face.”
Back home Malosa is a spear fisherman while Isaac works in construction, with no training facilities they need to travel by boat to an island with a beach flat and wide enough to practice their sport, camping because there is no permanent accommodation.
“We don’t really have a proper place to train, and all our beaches aren’t level, they slope and some of our beaches are getting smaller too,” said Isaac.
“We are not used to playing in front of all these people, but we controlled our emotions well. We’ve only been playing together for a few months, but we wanted to play in the Commonwealth Games.
“This is really important to us, representing our people and our small population. We aren’t just representing Tuvalu but the whole Pacific Islands.”
This sport has played on some grand stages – Rio’s Copacabana in 2016, London’s Horse Guards Parade in 2012 and four years ago in stunning Coolangatta, where the sport made its Commonwealth Games debut as Coral Sea waves crashed against the rocks.
Unfortunately, Birmingham is the most land-locked city in the UK and this pop-up venue in Digbeth, a short walk through the Bull Ring market and shadowed by a shopping centre, does not quite match their stunning vistas.
However, ‘Brum Beach’ could still be one of the tickets of these Games.
“Back home it is 37 degrees, so it’s a bit colder here but we’re getting used to it,” added a shivering Issac, as it started to drizzle.
“I didn’t know much about Birmingham before we came here. We just knew the Premier League and Aston Villa but not Birmingham.”
It’s 12 years since England’s Bello brothers arrived in London as 10-year-old boys and they are serious contenders for a medal at these Games, last year becoming the first British team to ever win on beach volleyball’s World Tour in Cortegaça.
“One of the best things about the Commonwealth Games is playing countries that people don’t know or haven’t heard of,” said Javier.
“You only need two people to be competitive at beach volleyball, so it’s a great sport for smaller nations and anyone can be competitive.”
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