Investment starting to pay returns for women’s football in Oceania nations

Efforts to help improve women’s football in the Oceania region are bearing fruit, say football leaders.

FIFA Chief Women’s Football Officer and former Samoa international Dame Sarai Bareman says the shining example was the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia.

“It’s clear that the impact stretched far beyond the two hosts and into the wider Oceania region,” she said.

FIFA’s provision of a range of on and off-field development activities in recent years has helped fast-track growth, and led to more examples of progress at OFC Women’s Olympic Qualifier tournament in Samoa.

From infrastructure upgrades — notably at the hosts’ Football Federation Samoa Football Stadium — to the provision of high-performance coaches, and financial packages supporting the national teams, the support has been broad and wide-ranging.

Main photo: Solomon Islands’ Ileen Pegi was one of the emerging players at the OFC Women’s Olympic Qualifier Tournament in Samoa. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Dame Sarai Bareman … ‘major competitions play such a crucial role.’

Dame Sarai said it was pleasing to see so many competitive matches and such a lift in the quality of football at the tournament.

“It’s a testament to the hard work that is being done by OFC and its member associations.

“Major competitions play such a crucial role in the growth of women’s football. Last year, we saw Papua New Guinea come so close to qualifying for the FIFA Women’s World Cup.”

The levelling of competition across the confederation reflects the commitment to improvement from both the world governing body and the respective member associations.

FIFA has delivered 77 programmes to Oceanian nations since first launching the Women’s Development Programmes in the region.

Notably, FIFA launched a pilot programme to help Pacific national teams prepare for the OFC Women’s Nation Cup 2022.

This turned into a fully-fledged programme that supported a range of identified nations to prepare for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Samoa, for instance, is enjoying a significant period of growth.

In February 2024, experienced administrator Ronna Lee Galumalemana became the new CEO at Football Federation Samoa (FFS), one of the few women to lead a member association in the region.

FIFA is investing in infrastructure, high-performance coaches and helping national teams compete. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

FFS President Sam Petaia says FIFA has invested more than USD$5 million for infrastructure in the past few years. Such investment has allowed FFS to host several OFC tournaments over the coming year.

Apia Park will be the main FFS administrative headquarters, while the existing Tuanaimato facility will be developed into a high-performance centre.

As part of FIFA 3.0 the academy will be developed with a gym, training pitches and player accommodation, sports science and anti-doping being housed on the site.

“FIFA, through their infrastructure assistance, have given us a platform, that our Federation can challenge rugby,” Petaia said.

“It’s about giving opportunities to kids. [Football is] the most well-funded, and the most popular grassroots programme in the country. But when they transition from primary school to secondary school, that is when we tend to lose a lot of the football players to rugby.

“We have systems in place that we will make sure we try to hold onto our players, so they know there’s something for them when they leave primary school. So it’s about us building programmes we can sustain. In five to 10 years look out, that landscape can change.”

FFS Technical Director Ravinesh Kumar said: “I think the FIFA Women’s World Cup had a great impact on the young people, young girls as well.

“We had our holiday programmes in December … and we could clearly see that there is a link, between the FIFA Women’s World Cup brought to Oceania and the interest it creates in our local kids. And now the Olympic qualifiers have backed up that interest, in our girls especially.

“We could see a lot of girls have come in to watch the Olympic qualifiers.”

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