Solomon Kurukuru might not have won any games at the FIFA Futsal World Cup, but off the field they have been big winners as ambassadors for their nation.If first impressions really are everything, then all of Solomon Islands have benefitted from the six weeks that the fourteen young men have been away.
Most people the team encountered had never met a someone from the Happy Isles before, however if you asked them now to describe a typical Solomon Islander then they would enthusiastically paint a picture of a friendly, respectful, and above all, joyous person.
The scene of Kurukuru leaving the Brasilia Palace Hotel was telling of the relationship that the team built with everyone around them during the tournament. Hotel managers, cleaners, security gaurds, police and various World Cup staff all turned out to say goodbye and wish them well. 'I've been working in the hotel industry for seven years,' said Team Liason Officer Manager Eduardo, ' and I've never met a sports group like this before. We love you - thank you.'
On returning from their opening World Cup game against Cuba the boys found a small cake on each of their beds, attached was a note that read 'Your singing gives our hotel energy, have a nice Championship'. The gesture referred to the team's morning devotion that begins with two or three songs of praise. What Kurukuru did not know was that their songs carried throughout the hotel and had given staff an uplifting start to the day.
The next morning they were requested to worship not in a small hotel room as usual, but in the lobby. A crowd of staff gathered and Head of Delegation, Pastor Seru lead the team and onlookers through a morning devotion that was memorable for all. 'They liked our songs, but it's not only entertainment,' said Seru, 'it's worship. For everyone that's met us we are not losers because we really represent our nation and Jesus well.'
The way the team played its futsal also won many admirers, including the Brazilian media and Futsal team. Although they were beaten in all their games, Kurukuru's potential was recognised by people with knowledge of the game and encouraging words were never far away.
At Brasilia airport it was a photographer who worked at the World Cup that liked what he saw. When they got off the plane in Sao Paulo it was a young woman who came over and said that her mother saw them playing on television and was impressed with their spirit and skills. Certainly it is a rare team that loses a match 32-2 and can still inspire a rapturous response from the crowd as they leave the court.
Kurukuru is currently in Dubai, en-route to Singapore, then Brisbane and finally back to home on Sunday at 12:30pm. And friends, family or fans wanting to greet them at Henderson Airport are most welcome - they surely deserve it!
Press Release (James Ruhfus in Dubai)