The twice-rescheduled OFC U-17 Women’s Championship has become the first official casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week the Oceania Football Confederation announced the decision with New Zealand nominated by the Executive Committee to represent the region at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup scheduled for next year and hosted in India.
New Zealand, who have won the four previous editions of the OFC U-16 Women’s Championship and finished fourth at the 2018 edition of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, were nominated due to their strong history in the regional event.
While the pandemic and border closures have disrupted several tournaments already, including the OFC Champions League, this is the first competition to be officially cancelled.
OFC General Secretary Franck Castillo said the cancellation is a sad reality of the pandemic.
“We understand this is a deeply disappointing situation for all of the players, coaches and officials involved, but the health and safety of the Pacific football community remains our top priority,” Castillo said.
“We want to provide the team who will represent OFC with the best chance to prepare for next year’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in India.”
It’s disappointing news for young women across the Pacific who have been preparing for the competition since last year, especially given the U-16 event, historically, has a tendency to be sidelined.
A late-blooming event on the regional tournament calendar the first edition was only held in 2010 following New Zealand’s successful hosting, and participation, in the first FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2008.
Both the 2010 and 2012 editions featured just four of the 11 OFC Member Associations. In 2014 the competition did not go ahead, with New Zealand nominated to represent Oceania at the corresponding edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
The competition started to gain traction following the introduction of compulsory participation.
In 2016, nine of the 11 OFC Member Associations participated in the competition held in the Cook Islands and featuring debuts for Fiji, Samoa and Vanuatu.
This event proved a milestone for the region in terms of women’s football development with the competition marking the first international outings for a number of standout young players like New Caledonia’s Jackie Pahoa and Fiji’s Cema Nassau who are both currently key members of their respective national teams.
The cancellation of a youth tournament can have long-term effects on the football development of a nation especially when it denies crucial international experience to young players.
Fingers crossed the confederation has something up its sleeve for these players. The Youth Development Tournament held for U-17 boys in Vanuatu in 2019 offers a credible and successful model for ensuring we don’t see a “lost generation” of women’s footballers from across the Pacific.