Pauw: Our aim is to make an impact

Vera Pauw does not follow, she leads. During her playing career, she was the first female Dutch player to ply her trade abroad professionally. After hanging up her boots, she was the first Dutch woman to earn her professional football coaching diploma with the KNVB and led FIFA’s Technical Study Group at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Japan 2012.

She also helped set up the Eredivisie Vrouwen in her homeland, oversaw the technical development of the women’s game in Scotland and Russia and now passes on her expertise to member associations around the world in her role as a FIFA Instructor. Her outstanding C.V. has recently been bolstered by guiding South Africa to the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament at Rio de Janeiro 2016 and she is heading up a grassroots revolution in the country.

“We want to develop the game in all its aspects,” Pauw told FIFA.comin an exclusive interview. “Every player who wants to play should be offered the opportunity to do so. The aim is a high quality of activity for all female football players, children, youth and adult, in South Africa. Each area of development has clear aims and tools put in a logical sequence. It should lead to the same kind of process of sports development that we have set up in other countries.”

Pauw’s vast experience in the women’s game, with a number of high profile coaching and technical roles since retiring from playing in 1998, means she is well-respected around the world. She wants to make sure her South Africa team hold a similar level of admiration across the women’s game, and she has big ideas as to how to make that happen.

“We want a structure that covers the pathway of female players from six years old up to Banyana Banyana and beyond retirement from playing,” Pauw said. “A structure that keeps the former players involved as a coach, referee or administrator. We most urgently need a national league. It is a necessity if you take your development of your top talented players seriously.”

All roads lead to RioHer focus for the time being is much sharper, with Rio 2016 approaching swiftly. South Africa kick off the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in Brazil, facing Sweden in the opening game at the Olympic Stadium.

“Qualifying away in front of a crowd of 40,000 was an amazing achievement that no one expected,” Pauw smiled. “The players deserve it so much after all we’ve been through. The aim is to make an impact. It’s key that players are seen and recognised in their abilities, that South Africa can add something to international women’s football.

“The determination of our players has taken us to this level,” Pauw continued. “They have given up everything for the team. The way we feel as a team is unique. It’s crucial for the further development of women’s football in South Africa that we have made it to Rio. Now is the moment, this is our year.”

That optimism from Pauw for immediate success, married up to the desire for progress in Rio to lay the foundations for future generations of Banyana Banyana stars, perfectly displays the Dutch coach’s vision for women’s football in a remarkably multicultural country. She believes she has the tools at her disposal for that dream of success to become reality.

Our players are heroines of the people in the communities.

“In South Africa players need much more freedom while learning the demands at the top level,” Pauw explained. “It can be a complicating factor when the highest level of communication is expected with different cultures in a team. But, these players have the absolute will to look for similarities. That makes us strong. Together we are strong.”

The confidence that Pauw displays when discussing women’s football in a country that has yet to reach a FIFA Women’s World Cup™ finals, is matched by her superiors at the South African Football Association (SAFA).

“Our management has the idea that we want to make a difference,” Pauw said. “For example, all female teams are coached by women. There is no discussion about this, that choice is made. Because of this, South Africa could grow to be a major country in women’s football in Africa. Children in Africa, both boys and girls, learn the game on the street.

"We as an association must create circumstances for players to grow from street football to being a top international player. These structures will take about ten years to develop, but we have an association ready to go for it. Women in football, whether it is players or women in leadership positions, receive more respect in South Africa then elsewhere in the world. Our players are heroines of the people in the communities.”

Dutch coach coy on futurePauw would become a heroine herself in South Africa if she were to steer Banyana Banyana to a medal in Rio. At their maiden appearance at London 2012, they garnered one point and finished bottom of an admittedly tough group containing Sweden, Canada and Japan. This time, Sweden once more, China PR and hosts Brazil lie in wait. What of Pauw’s future after the tournament?

“I have never planned my professional career,” Pauw said. “When I do a task, I feel the responsibility to do it as well as I can. I never look further than that. I said the week before our last game against Equatorial Guinea: ‘my diary stops on game day.’ Now my diary stops after the Olympic Tournament. I have no idea what will be after, I don’t even want to think about it as that would distract me.”

With Pauw’s clear focus and steely determination, Banyana Banyana will surely be a force to be reckoned with in Rio if those on the field can match the leadership and drive demonstrated off of it.

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