Women’s football in Oceania has been the beneficiary this week with the hosting of the FIFA/OFC Women’s Football Development Seminar over three days in Wellington, New Zealand.
Each of the Oceania Football Confederation’s 11 Member Associations were in attendance for the seminar which concluded today in the New Zealand capital.
The general theme was the future growth and development of women’s football in the region. Attendees heard from a number of presenters, while there was also a productive interactive forum as participants exchanged ideas and experiences from their respective homelands.
The seminar involved numerous components including technical development, marketing, Social Responsibility and strategic planning to name but a few.
On hand to open and facilitate the seminar was FIFA Women’s Football Development Manager Mayi Cruz Blanco, who commented on the progress made in the region and globally since her last visit.
“I think 2006 was the last seminar that we had here and since then many things have happened in terms of women and girls participating in football,” she said.
“We had the greatest of the women’s sports events with the FIFA Women's World Cup™ in Germany in 2011 - that left a great legacy and has shaken all the structures of football, especially at FIFA,” Cruz Blanco said.
“I think you’ve seen how many new initiatives we have for developing women’s football and supporting leagues, girl’s festivals - including the Live Your Goals programme - and grassroots development specifically for girls. This is part of the legacy of Germany because it was such a fantastic tournament.”
Crossing the cultural divide
OFC nations may be small in number but they are a diverse group stretching from the French-speaking Tahiti in the east, to the highly rural nation of Papua New Guinea at the west end of the continent.
Nevertheless Cruz Blanco says cultural and gender divides can be bridged and used the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in Azerbaijan as a prime example.
“I thought Azerbaijan was a big lesson and provided a message in terms of how far women’s football has come,” said Cruz Blanco. “It is a Muslim country and they put together a great tournament.
"For me, that was a fantastic message to the world that there are no barriers - no cultural barriers, no social barriers. Now girls and women can participate in football and it is really important for us to feel it - but also to do something about it.”
New Zealand have taken much of the spotlight in the region, although Papua New Guinea participated with distinction at the 2010 Youth Olympic Football Tournament, and have pushed the Kiwis in recent qualifying tournaments.
And OFC Women’s Development Officer Nicola Demaine took the opportunity to highlight plans for the development of the female game throughout the Oceania region.
“It’s not the first conference of its type that we’ve had, but it’s going to be the one that everyone looks back on and says ‘That was it, that was the starting point, that’s the one that changed everything’,” Demaine told seminar attendees.
The final word went to Cruz Blanco who has vast experience of helping develop the women’s game across the globe.
“If you are committed then our work will be easier because you are the ones that are going to make the difference,” she said.
“We can bring great programmes, we can put money into it and say ‘Yes, put the girls and women in football', but if you don’t make the difference locally then we can’t do anything.”
“I thank New Zealand Football for hosting the event and also for supporting the region. I would also like to thank OFC because it is one of the confederations that is really making a difference for women’s football with a dedicated person for women on the executive committee which I think is great for women’s football."