It’s been a strange year for everyone and while at times it’s been difficult to see the silver lining of a world in crisis, one thing has helped keep us here at Pasifika Sisters sane – women’s football in the Pacific.
AS ONE 2023
The game has enjoyed a spectacular 12 months, despite the halt on international football, with FIFA’s June announcement of New Zealand and Australia as hosts of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup proving a catalyst for a lot of initiatives across the region.
Concretely, it will be a little while before we learn what the residual benefits for women’s football across Oceania will be, however another FIFA announcement (on Christmas Eve no less) reveals the beginnings of the opportunities which will be available.
FIFA announced the allocation of spots at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 with OFC set to benefit from 1.5 places. For 2023 that includes the automatic entry for New Zealand as a co-host, and a half-berth for the remaining 10 nations to battle it out for.
The successful team from Oceania will then progress to a ten-team play-off tournament which will be held in Australia and New Zealand as a test event for the World Cup in which all participating teams, including the hosts in friendlies, will play at last two matches.
Further details about the play-off tournament including Confederation allocations is available here: http://fifa.fans/2JuSjTc
FIFA DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMMES
FIFA has always offered a raft of courses and development programmes but in 2020 it launched a new suite of women’s football development programmes for the 2020-2023 period, the key element being the tailored approach aiming to consider each nation’s football landscape and needs.
Tonga is among the nations who piloted one of the programme’s “Women’s Football Campaign” which supports the delivery of events to boost participation and promote exisiting competitions and programmes. In Tonga, that comes in the form of Heilala Manongi.
The programme promotes football not just on Tongatapu, the main island, but ‘Eua, Vava’u, Ha’apai and two of the more remote islands of Niuafo’ou and Niuatoputapu.
Additionally, League Development became a priority for a number of nations, with support from FIFA.
Solomon Islands kicked off its first Women’s Premier League with a stunning launch which included a song written and performed especially for the league.
While the results varied, in line with the participating teams experience, the minor premier league title decision came down to the final day of the league, with RSIPF Royals finishing triumphant in this round and the Grand Final to lift the inaugural title.
After a very long break, Papua New Guinea welcomed back top-tier competition for its women who have somehow managed to retain their moniker of “Queens of the Pacific” despite no domestic competition.
Like neighbouring Solomon Islands, a glittering launch was organised in Papua New Guinea’s capital of Port Moresby and live streamed to fans around the globe, and a week later the Northern and Southern Conference matches got underway.
The number of participating teams, 14, are a clear indication of the desire from women to play football, and the goal of securing the half-berth and competing for a place at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup is evident not just from the players, but from those administering the game.
Across Oceania the future of the women’s game is being solidified by the employment of full-time women’s football development officers. The number has risen remarkably compared with recent years and is expected to continue to grow until every OFC Member Association has a member of staff dedicated specifically to the growth and development of women’s football in their country.
So far the injection of WDOs has seen an increase in activities the expectation of a bright future ahead for the women’s game.
The launch of the OFC Women’s Football Strategy is scheduled for early 2021 and will no doubt bring renewed resolve from those working across the Pacific to grow women’s football to continue doing what they do, to voice those ambitious ideas for growth and to encourage greater participation.
Spearheaded by OFC Women’s Football Development Officer, Emma Evans, the strategy will in no way be an administration focused document with Evans having spent the past 12 months in conversation with key players across the region to ensure what is produced, is a reflection of the region, it’s people, and their needs.
While FIFA’s announcement of a further half-berth becoming available to Oceania came as a blow to many, who had hoped for two spots for the region, it was a sensible decision given the dormancy of so many women’s football programmes.
The path to Australia/New Zealand 2023 is much more difficult than first expected, but the opportunities the play-off presents and the potential for Oceania to have two teams in a Women’s World Cup for the first time is too juicy for these nations to pass up. Expect continued investment in the women’s game domestically, the possibility of increased regional activity (if COVID-19 allows it) and increased support from all corners of the regional football community.