- Significant women’s football development activity in Oceania in recent months
- 2023 Women’s World Cup announcement has helped stimulate football in region
- “There is still a vast amount of untapped potential and opportunity in Oceania”
The announcement that Australia and New Zealand will host the next edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ has created a stir in the region. More than that, it has proved to be a catalyst driving women’s football growth.
In Asia, a host of nations are now setting their sights on bigger goals. So too, in the Pacific where a Women’s World Cup will be in the region for the first time, the women’s game has been given a clear bump with a flurry of development activity in recent months.
It hasn’t always been the case, with Pacific island nations traditionally dominated by Papua New Guinea as the clear standout. But there were signs of change prior to the June announcement for 2023.
PNG hosted the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in a landmark event for the region. In 2018, all 11 OFC nations participating for the first time in the OFC Women’s Nations Cup - which doubled as France 2019 qualifiers - with Fiji ending PNG’s traditional status behind continental queens New Zealand.
OFC General Secretary Franck Castillo recently said the time was right to put more emphasis on the women’s game: “There is an opportunity for us to build a legacy for women’s football in the coming years and OFC wants to drive the increased participation and investment in women’s football in the Pacific."
From little things, big things grow
In 2020, the modest impetus of recent years turned into significant momentum. “With the added motivation of the FIFA Women’s World Cup being held in New Zealand and Australia in 2023, we have seen each Member Association begin to prioritise women’s football,” Emma Evans, OFC Women’s Football Development Officer, told FIFA.com.
“As a result, eight of the 11 Member Associations now have a Women’s Football Development Officer to lead the women’s game – at the start of 2020 there were only four.” Evans also oversaw the introduction of the OFC Women’s Football Capacity Building Programme in July, which offers mentorship and guidance to the Women’s Football Development Officers.
Melanesian nations in the west half of the continent has traditionally dominated, but now strong green shoots are also sprouting in Polynesia. In Tonga, through the Heilala Manongi Project, thousands of young girls have been introduced to football in each country.
“We have a focus on women’s football, strongly supported by our president and executive committee, especially with the 2023 tournament being hosted locally which maybe means more opportunities,” Tonga FA technical director Kilifi Uele recently told FIFA.com. “Our women’s development project goes all the way to our furthest islands.”
In nearby Samoa, a Women’s Football Development Officer is in charge of each island, there have been festivals and fun football centres launched on both islands - with over 300 girls involved in each programme - as well as weekly female coach and volunteer programmes supporting these programmes.
At the far end of eastern end of Polynesia, Tahiti has made significant strides on and off the field under the guidance of FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme participant Stephanie Spielmann. Tahiti is also the only Oceania nation to offer a competitive Beach Soccer competition for women.
Meanwhile in the Solomon Islands, a local women’s national league is in place with the nation set to host the 2023 Pacific Games. The potential in the Melanesian nation is massive given the local hunger for football, and the strides that neighbours PNG have been able to achieve.
"For the past five or so years we haven't really put a lot of effort into the women's game and we see now that opportunity, so we'd like to focus on women's football and try to develop it and raise it to another level,” said Solomon Islands Acting Women's Development Officer, Antoinette Miniti.
Passion and motivation drive impetus
Passion for football in the region is undoubted, which means scope for significant future growth. OFC hope the new Solomon Islands’ national league will be a catalyst for other Oceanian nations to follow suit.
“Although we are making great strides in the women’s game, there is still a vast amount of untapped potential and opportunity across Oceania, both on and off the pitch.” Evans said. “With the added motivation of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 being hosted within the confederation, OFC will now look to implement a women’s football strategy, which will use the power of football to drive social change, advance gender equality, and create more opportunities for girls and women in football across the Pacific.
“I am looking forward to seeing the game continue to progress in Oceania, and have no doubt that with the passion, commitment and drive of those leading the women’s game in Oceania we will see exactly that.”