Guam’s impressive breakthrough showing during 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying has been one of the great stories of world football during the past year. That success was achieved, in part, by the solid foundations put in place by the ambitious Guam Football Association (GFA).
The GFA, with the help of development support from FIFA, have also set their sights on further growing Women’s Football where freshly sown seeds are already sprouting across the small northern Pacific nation, both at grassroots and international level.
Women top the men
The sharp spike in all aspects of women’s football across the globe has also been mirrored in this small nation of some 170,000 inhabitants. The latest benchmark came with a massive leap in female participation numbers for the 2016 season.
Aided by FIFA-supported Women’s Football festivals and Live Your Goals events, the Guam FA were overwhelmed by the quantity of female players and teams seeking registration. The drive has been so successful that, somewhat quirkily, female participation figures now outnumber male players at senior level.
A chief driver of this growth in female player participation has come via the ‘Mum’s League’. “We are very proud of this increasing trend,” Cheri Stewart, Executive Director of the GFA told FIFA.com about the increased interest.
“When mums are dropping off the kids to practice for their youth league, they will skirt off to the side to practice themselves. They sometimes find that the kids want to practice with their mums, but the mums are looking for their own sanctuary to practice alone!”
And the GFA’s development goals have not just been restricted to the traditional format of the game. A Beach Soccer tournament for female players has recently been re-established, with referee development also a focus. Impetus for the latter was further boosted by the national U-16 squad, who all broadened their football knowledge via some practical experience with the whistle.
“This would not all be happening if it was not for the strong support by the FIFA Women’s Football Development programs,” said Stewart. “Now that we have launched, nurtured and progressed, it is now time to focus on female coaches, referees, plus girls and women’s national teams.
“And all the while as things look very healthy on the league front, we are aiming to continue our support to the youth national team and senior women’s team programs.”
While the nation is building a solid platform at grassroots’ level, the respective national teams are also starting to make their presence felt. The senior national team, the Masakada, cruised through the preliminary stages of the EAFF East Asian Cup to reach the final stage of qualifiers for the first time ahead of last year’s tournament proper.
But it is Guam’s U-16 national team that has enjoyed the most success. In 2013 they created a milestone achievement by becoming the first Guam side to win through to an AFC tournament - no mean feat in Asia’s increasingly competitive women’s football scene.
The next step is heightened achievement at senior level. “After the recent success of the men's national team and with the assistance and support of FIFA, we must now utilise this momentum and excitement to push our women's football programs further forward,” Gary White, national men’s senior team coach and GFA Technical Director, told FIFA.com.
"The focus that we place on our women's football program must be laser like, and we must place the same expectations on them as we have on the men's side if we are to meet our expected performance standards now, and in the future."
The strong base platform that is being built - not to mention the drive and ambition of the GFA - suggests international achievement is a matter of when, not if. The hard-working Stewart concludes by emphasising the point. “GFA still has more work to do but as in life, there’s always more to do if you are going to succeed.”