Palm trees. Lagoons. Waterfalls. Beaches. These are, for many, what Tahiti is famous for. The island, the largest in French Polynesia, has become a travel sensation, with hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, despite its size.
Tahiti is part of French Polynesia, an overseas collectivity of France. It is not independent — Tahiti is a French territory, the official language is French, and there is a large influence of French culture on the island.
When it comes to sports, Tahiti tends to focus on games with indigenous roots: mainly canoeing and javelin throwing. However, le foot has also become increasingly popular on the island, and it even has a historic league — Tahiti Ligue 1, the same name as its French counterparts. That’s not to say it’s exactly the same as the French game, though.
These should be fairly straightforward, right? A win is worth three points, a tie is worth one, and you get none for a loss. Except that isn’t the case.
A win, instead, is worth four points, and a tie is worth two. Remarkably, a loss is worth one, because — as Tahitian Football Federation Director of Competitions Charles Ariiotima explained in this interview — they don’t want anyone to be sad at the end of the season. You only get zero points if you fail to show up for a match. This explains how Olympic Mahina finished the first half of the season with 13 points — one win, nine losses, and a point deducted.
The league system is unique, too. Each team plays every team once, resulting in eleven matches (there are only 12 teams.) Then, the league separates into halves — one into the Championship group, one into the Relegation group.
The Gap in Quality
In the first half of the season, AS Dragon finished with 44 points — they played 11 matches, won all of them, and scored a whopping 64 goals along the way. Compare them with last-placed Olympic Mahina, who collected just 13 points and scored just ten times. They conceded 63 goals compared to Dragon’s 10.
Every year, three teams dominate — Dragon, AS Venus, and Pirae. This season, these three teams averaged 5.8, 5.2, and 6 goals scored a game in the first half of the season. Last season, it was 5.2, 4.5, and 4.3. On the other side of the table, several teams average less than one per game.
Tahiti has some fascinating clubs in its top tier. Here’s a quick rundown on them all:
AS Dragon, founded in 1968 with heavy Chinese influence, is one of the country’s most successful clubs. Marama Vahirua, a Tahitian legend who made over 300 appearances in the French Ligue 1, ended his career with the club in 2018 and is now their president.
AS Venus was founded in 1945 and are perennial challengers for the title. They made headlines in 2019 when 16-year-old Terai Bremond signed for Toulouse, although he is now back at the club. They additionally had a partnership with French side Saint-Etienne.
AS Pirae was the first French Polynesian side to play in the Oceania Champions League Final and has won the second-most titles in Tahitian Ligue 1 history. Vahirua came through the Pirae Academy prior to joining his first French side, FC Nantes.
Six years after Pirae was in the Oceania Champions League Final, AS Tefana also made it — and lost. They, too, had a partnership with Saint-Etienne, although, like with Venus, it’s impossible to tell if that still exists as Saint-Etienne has never signed a Tahitian player.
AS Temanava is not from the main Tahitian island, but rather from Moorea — an island just north of Tahiti. Fittingly, their badge is an outline of the island, which has never seen a single club win Ligue 1.
AS Tamarii Punaruu won the league in 1969 but has not won another trophy since then. Remarkably, they won one of their games this season 13-0, yet still scored just 32 goals in the first part of the season.
AS Central Sport, founded in 1938, are the record champions of the Tahitian league, with 21 titles. Goalkeeper Mickael Roche spent a year with AS Monaco and was the starting goalkeeper for Tahiti in the infamous Confederations Cup game against Spain in 2013 when he conceded ten goals.
AS Pueu has had a rough year, with two seven-goal losses. They have bounced between the first and second tiers of Tahiti.
AS Taiarapu was founded recently in 2015 and has promoted player development and academies. Recent players include Tutehau Tufariua, who featured for Tahiti at the u20 World Cup in 2019 and signed for French side AS Cherbourg in 2021.
AS Jeunes Tahitiens is one of the island’s oldest clubs, having been founded in 1923. The three-time champions made the wrong kind of history this season, losing 17-0 to AS Dragon and conceding 12 goals to one player (Roonui Tinirauari). They conceded 82 times and had a goal differential of -70 after the first half of the season.
AS Excelsior has won Ligue 1 seven times, and shares their name with several other clubs, with teams from the Netherlands, Reunion, and Belgium all having the same name. The Tahitian Excelsior also has more than one sport, with a tennis club as well. This season, they have lost by ten or more goals three times.
AS Olympic Mahina (as mentioned earlier) finished last in the first half of the league, with just 13 points. They have a rivalry with fellow Mahina club Venus, although it’s not very competitive — this season Venus won 9-0. Other scorelines this season include 6-0, 11-1, and 17-0.
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