As a nation with one of the largest geographic expanses in the Pacific – 118 islands across more than 2,000km – ensuring football reaches every corner of French Polynesia is a tough ask.
However, Fédération Tahitienne de Football women’s football development officer, Stephanie Spielmann, feels like she is finally starting to make inroads.
Since taking on the role full-time, Spielmann has been working to not only reignite the passion for women’s football across the country, but to provide opportunities for women and girls to participate.
Spielmann’s plans are starting to take shape with Operation Maeva and the Hine Festival becoming regular fixtures on the calendar of many clubs, and the constant growth and expansion of women’s leagues not just in Tahiti, but further afield.
On the most populous island, Tahiti, the 2020-21 season will see 27 teams participating in the existing senior, U-23 and U-15 divisions, with a further six teams taking on the newly established U-11 competition.
The decision to establish girl’s only divisions at U-15 and U-11 hasn’t been an easy one with some clubs pushing back. In the past girls have been used to help make up the club’s numbers in the boy’s competitions, but last season young girls made their choice clear – opting for the U-15 competition over the mixed option – as it gave them more time on the ball, and a chance to play against other girls.
On Moorea, a women’s competition is launching for the first time this season, with four teams competing in both the senior and U-15 divisions.
In the Society Islands group, Raiatea, a competition will take place featuring five teams playing 8-a-side. On Rurutu, in the Austral Islands, a similar-sized competition will take place.
Spielmann has also set her sights on the Marquesas Islands, with a visit planned for November.
“There are youth and senior women’s teams but I will go in November to see what we can do there. We need to provide opportunities for the girls to come and play. That’s what we’ve done in Tahiti and now that we have four championships running, we’re continuing in the islands,” Spielmann said.
As well as looking at football competitions, Spielmann will be launching a new project in Nuku-Hiva, one of the Marquesas Islands.
“I’ll be launching the first Programme ARCHIPELS in Nuku-Hiva where we’ll have 19 participants representing all the Marquises Islands, except Taiohae where there aren’t any clubs.
“We’ll spend four days in workshops to work together on individual women’s football strategies for each of the Marquises Islands. The goal is for each island to launch, at a minimum, a women’s championship, whether senior or youth.”
For the UEFA A Licence holder, it’s incredibly fulfilling to see the dedication and hard work of the past couple of years paying off.
“It’s exciting to see the work starting to bear fruit. This season for the first time, in Tahiti, all the clubs will have at least one women’s football team in their ranks,” she said.
“I’m also really pleased that the women’s youth competitions are developing well, as that’s part of our strategy.”
Spielmann’s dedication, to an often-thankless role, isn’t just reflected in the competitions and football development, but in the all-round improvement of the women’s football environment.
“What inspires me is to change the lives of girls and women through football. I often say that I’m lawyer for the women’s game. I fight for recognition, equality and fairness.”
FTF Women’s Football Competitions 2020/21
Seniors (9-a-side) – 10 teams
U-23 (9-a-side) – 7 teams
U-15 (5-a-side) – 5 teams / (8-a-side) – 5 teams
U-11 (5-a-side) – 6 teams
Moorea: (both 8-a-side)
Senior – 4 teams
U-15 – 4 teams
Senior – 4-5 teams
No category – 5 teams