When the Vanuatu U-19 women’s team were beaten 13-0 by Australia during last month’s ‘Pacific Step-Up’ tour there were people who wrote the squad off as “typical” of an island nation.
Perhaps “typical” in the sense that the players have no national league they can participate in. Or “typical” in that they were beaten into the double-digits by a nation with more resources, more development programmes and a strong managerial structure governing the game.
However, as “typical” as that result might be seen, those same people should be looking at the non-typical achievements of team and the young woman helping drive them.
Following her team’s heavy defeat in the friendly against Australia, captain Rita Solomon used the post-match interview as a platform to make a case not only for her team, but for women’s football in Vanuatu.
Solomon called on the government to invest in women’s football, stating that losing to Australia by such a large margin isn’t just devastating for the players who took part, but hardly reflects well on the nation either.
“On behalf of us women, there is a more support for men in football compared to women,” Solomon said at the time.
“For example, in Vanuatu we only have men’s league. “I am calling on our Government and the authorities to please include women in your strategies so we can develop our skills and showcase our talents in games like this one against Australia.”
It takes courage to make a statement against those in power and Solomon has more than shown her leadership credentials, especially given her call for support was heard.
After seeing the video doing the rounds on social media, Vanuatu’s Ministry of Education organised a fundraiser in support of the Vsnautu U-19 women’s team which raised almost Vt 100,000.
“There was a video of Vanuatu’s Captain, Rita Solomon, that spread through Facebook,” Ministry of Education Director General Bergmans Iati said.
“We were deeply touched by her words and figured we should do something to support the girls since most of their parents work at the Ministry.”
Knowing that her cries for help have been heard is a relief for Solomon.
“For once, the girls, we feel special that the government has heard our cries and supported us. It pushed us to improve and inspires us to play for the competition.”
Having the backing of the Government, as well as the hundreds of members of the public who shared messages of support following the video, the girls have been able to concentrate on their performance in the Cook Islands.
And they’ve come through with results that have seen them through to the semi-finals.
“When Australia beat us 13-0 it pushed us to do more, we can train harder and work harder to avoid that because at that time, all of us felt pain that we lost by that kind of number playing the sport we love,” Solomon said of the learnings the team took from the Pacific Step Up friendly.
“To be honest, we didn’t expect we could win at this competition but we all came and we have a strong mind. We said, if we trust each other, and with teamwork, we can beat the Fijians.”
With wins over Fiji and Solomon Islands, Vanuatu have lined themselves up a semi-final against six-time champions and favourites for this year’s title, New Zealand.
“We are looking forward to it,” Solomon said.
“We have heard that New Zealand is a very tough team we know that they are more developed and also that they have a women’s league. But no matter what, we will face New Zealand in the semi-final and we will work hard as always.”
As someone who is already lining herself up to be not only a future leader, but an ambassador for women’s football in Vanuatu, Solomon has this to say:
“I want to encourage the girls to never give up, even if the people in government or some other big people in football look down on you, trust in yourself, be confident and trust in yourself that you can do it.”