Besides bearing witness to the world’s best football currently on offer in the women’s game, the FIFA Women’s World Cup also provided food for thought when it comes to football development in Oceania.
Here in the Pacific we’re a long way from professionalising the men’s game, let alone the women’s one. As for equal opportunities, you only need to take a look at the fields offered up for women’s leagues across the region to understand the vast canyon between men and women.
Meanwhile seven of the eight quarter-finalists in France 2019 were European nations, a continent where clubs and leagues are the most professional on offer to the women’s game. The champions USA are an example of athleticism, technical and tactical prowess and a development programme that not only starts at a young age but thanks to Title IX which was introduced in the early 1970s, also offers equal developmental opportunities for boys and girls.
So what exactly is it that we’re doing wrong in Oceania when it comes to women’s football development? Maybe ‘wrong’ isn’t the right word. What can we do better in order to be more competitive?
New Zealand, the leading example by a mile when it comes to the women’s game in the region, seems to do everything right at home in terms of development programmes, leagues, top coaches and adequate funding, but there still something lacking when the senior side arrives at major tournaments.
Of course that could be about to change in the near future. The bronze medal at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2018 could well be a sign of things to come. But even if New Zealand can continue to achieve on the global stage, we still need to have a conversation about how to close the gap between them and the rest of the region.
Firstly there’s how women in sport is perceived in Oceania. As much as times are changing, there’s still a long way to go and until we can convince everyone – and especially those in charge – that women are equally deserving of investment as men, it will continue to be a slow change.
Funding. Yes, FIFA insist on a percentage of all funding going to women’s football, but in reality does it?
Under the previous funding format, it’s clear that wasn’t the case. With FIFA Forward the funds are tracked much more tightly, and associated with a clearly outlined project, with a budget, which has to be approved by FIFA before any funding is released. This format also relies on Member Associations creating projects in order to unlock the available funding. It’s a long process but one that I HOPE all 11 OFC Member Associations will make the most of. It doesn’t take much to provide an opportunity for every women and girl across Oceania to play football. They deserve, and are entitled to, it.
Associated with funding is accessibility. Is football available to everyone who wants to play it?
One of the biggest roadblocks in Oceania, whether it’s the men’s or the women’s game, is geography. The region is vast, isolated and expensive to traverse. There’s not much we can do about that but we desperately need to find some solutions to start working with our geographical divides. In Vanuatu, the focus over the past few years has been decentralisation and not only are we seeing more opportunities to participate in competitions for some of the more remote island communities, but they’re proving they can be just as competitive as some of the more established clubs based in the capital, Port Vila. Next up, extending these same opportunities to women’s football in Vanuatu.
Overall, we need to stop thinking of women’s football as anything other than being absolutely deserving of anything we consider for the men’s game. We need to invest, we need to create strategies, we need to make it accessible and we need to trust it.
So if I can take only one thing away from this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, it’s that WOMEN CAN.
- WOMEN CAN play
- WOMEN CAN entertain
- WOMEN CAN be leaders
- WOMEN CAN be spokespeople
- WOMEN CAN be FOOTBALLERS