Heilala Manongi drawing girls into football

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When it comes to women’s football, Tonga’s star has been on the rise for some time.

In recent years the previously steady growth has waned due to a variety of factors but a new participation programme is set to jump start it back into life.

Heilala Manongi was successfully launched in ‘Eua, Vava’u and finally in Tongatapu in mid-March by Tonga Football President Lord Ve’ehala.

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Belinda Wilson, FIFA women’s football technical consultant, played an instrumental role in the development of the programme while working alongside Tonga Football Association staff.

“We have been working closely with TFA for over a year and had assessment visits to understand the nature of football in Tonga. More importantly, the gaps that needed to be closed to help the development of women’s football on the islands,” Wilson explained.

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This reflects the approach the FIFA Women’s Football department have adopted going forward, which considers the individual needs of a Member Association when it comes to providing support for development.

“We worked closely with the technical director, the women’s football manager and grassroots managers and the discussions we had created a very clear understanding of what was currently happening and what areas we needed to focus on to help the development of the game in Tonga.”

The opportunity to link up with project leaders on each of the participating islands was also an important step in developing the programme’s foundations.

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“Once we had all the relevant information we then sat down and came up with a programme where we could link player pathways, develop qualified coaches and identify and mentor coach educators which is tailored to Tonga and to the communities.”

The programme is projected to cover more than six islands while reaching over 50 communities, with girls aged 13 to 15 years old the target audience.

Adelaide Tu’ivailala is incredibly excited about what Heilala Manongi means for women’s football across the Kingdom of Tonga.

“The difference between this programme and others we have implemented in the past is Heilala Manongi is tailor-made to suit the situation in Tonga whereas previously projects would come with rules and regulations that were not suitable for Tonga,” the former women’s football development officer explained.

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Heilala Manongi creates a pathway for players, coaches and referees, it is more technically developed while being fun and enjoyable and finally, all the volunteers are receiving incentives to assist their other needs.”

The Heilala Manongi project will run for 16 weeks and will round up with a major tournament including the outer islands.

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Tu’ivailala was keen to reiterate the collaborative nature of the programme, with even the name subject to being workshopped by the group.

“We wanted a name that would be unique, significant and reflect young girls between the ages of 13 to 15,” Tu’ivailala explained.

“A few of the TFA staff sat down to discuss suggestions for the project name, Heilala Manongi being one, and it was agreed upon by everyone.

“Heilala is considered the most chiefly flower in Tonga, and the national flower. Manongi means the fragrance, essence, aroma or scent of the Heilala flower.

Additional reporting and images: tongafootball.to

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