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Indonesian soccer club still recovering from tsunami

Slobodan Lekic Associated Press

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia – A maze of drainage ditches, water pipes and mounds of dirt crisscross the field at Lampineung Stadium, home of the Persiraja soccer team. The stands are mostly stacks of warped boards, which dozens of construction workers are removing.

Soccer’s international governing body and the Asian Football Confederation are financing the repairs in preparation for the team’s return to the Indonesian First Division for the first time since last year’s undersea quake and tsunami.

“We have to thank FIFA for helping us in our time of need,” said Burhanudin Amin, a Persiraja official supervising the work at the monsoon-drenched stadium. “Without them, this club would have died in the tsunami.”

The 15,000-seat Lampineung Stadium was badly damaged by the earthquake that struck a year ago on Dec. 26. The huge wave that spread across the provincial capital also washed over the field, leaving only the forlorn-looking goal posts standing.

Spanish and other foreign troops arrived a few days later with heavy equipment to help with rescue and relief operations, but that only further damaged the site. They bivouacked at the stadium, setting up makeshift warehouses for humanitarian supplies on the field.

As the rescue effort gradually wound down, FIFA and the AFC launched a $10.5 million Tsunami Solidarity Fund for soccer infrastructure reconstruction in areas affected by the tsunami, $3 million of which will go to Aceh.

The money also will help fund numerous projects in Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Thailand, where a Tsunami Memorial Football Center will be built.

In the Maldives, relief financing was directed into repairs to the damaged headquarters of the national soccer body and its training center, while in Sri Lanka 13 separate reconstruction projects were funded.

Much of the money in Aceh was spent on donations of soccer equipment for the many traumatized children – sport and play was considered essential to help their recovery. FIFA and the AFC also sent delegates to set up coaching and refereeing courses, local tournaments and soccer clinics for homeless kids.

Still, there has not been a single official game in Aceh since the tsunami. The three teams that used to play in Indonesia’s first three divisions are hoping to return to national competitions when they resume in February.

In preparation, the Tsunami Solidarity Fund also is financing repairs to soccer fields in the outlying towns of Bireun and Langsa.

Nuzuli Ibrahim, deputy head of the Indonesian Sports Confederation in Aceh, said that despite the help and the insistence by the national soccer body that Acehnese clubs return to competition, it was still difficult to reconstruct the teams and motivate the players to compete.

But Ibrahim said help was still arriving, sometimes in unexpected forms.

“For instance, Bosnia – another country familiar with tragedy – had just offered to send a coach, and maybe a couple of players to help out Persiraja with its return to league competition,” he said.

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