Ambitious Fiji benefit from FIFA mentor programme

  • Fiji women’s football has enjoyed several milestone highs in recent years

  • Sports scientist Elle Turner aided the Pacific nation in a mentor role

  • Mancunian shares her experiences and surprise leanings

“I've learned just as much from them as what they've learned from me.”

Elle Turner has been ensconced in one of world football’s hotspots for years, working firstly for Manchester United, and as of recently, Manchester City. Highly experienced and educated in all facets of athletes’ physical well-being in her role as a sports scientist, Turner may not have expected to learn much from Fiji’s women’s football fraternity when what seemed a left-field offer came from FIFA – yet that is exactly what happened.

Turner took up a mentor role as part of FIFA’s Women’s National Team Preparation Pilot Programme. It meant passing on knowledge and expertise about nutrition, conditioning, recovery and more to Fiji’s women’s coaching staff, and in turn, players.

Fiji is something of a pioneering football nation in its region, being the first Oceanian island nation to participate in FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers. Now their women’s programme – with tailor-made focus specific to females in football - is being turbo-charged ahead of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup™, the first to be held in Oceania.

Working remotely via the internet with her new colleagues on the other side of the world, Turner says the experience has opened her mind to new perspectives.

“I think it’s a very special and unique project,” she said. “I feel it's bigger and there's a bigger purpose. Whilst working with MA’s [Member Associations] that are just at the beginning, one of the biggest things that I have learned is that you're not the one that's just educating them, and they're only learning from you. That's probably the biggest thing that I've taken out of the experience.

“Because I think sometimes as a sport scientist we can go in with a bit of a closed mind, or ‘we know more than you’. I think if you take that approach that limits the experience. I found I've literally learned just as much from them, if not more than what they've learned from me.”

Fiji have just kicked-off their first women’s national league, and Turner says there is an impressive raw hunger to improve the local game.

“The players are all at home in lockdown and we have sent out programmes,” she said. “However, some of the players are unable to do them because they don’t have work, don’t have an income, so they are currently spending all day hunting and gathering food, and fishing.

“Some of them can only afford to have one meal a day. In that situation, they might not be able to train as hard as normally and complete the programme, so that is a unique situation.

“FIFA have helped me come up with solutions how best to deal with this and support this as best as possible. The Fijians have been incredible with their mindset. It actually blew me away and was really overwhelming. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves or blame anyone.”

Fiji’s next goal is Women’s World Cup qualification. Though still a tough task, the odds have improved dramatically in recent years. Fiji knocked over traditional Pacific kingfishers Papua New Guinea in the most recent OFC Women’s Nations Cup. Next challenge on the horizon is winning a ticket to the new global Women’s World Cup play-off tournament in 2023.

"I think the main successes have been, or the bit that I've enjoyed the most, is how open minded and forward thinking the Fijian staff are.

“I think with what they have in place and the people that they have involved in the project, I believe they will be okay. The players will come through. They'll be ready physically as well as tactically and technically.

"And I think what they've gone through has just created adversity, a bump in the road, and I think that will help prepare them as well.”