The Fiji women’s national team’s ascent to the upper ranks of women’s football in Oceania has not gone unnoticed at home.
For the second consecutive edition of the OFC Women’s Nations Cup Fiji made the finals, falling short this time around to an organised and determined Papua New Guinea side and missing out on a chance to continue their bid to be the first Pacific Island nation to qualify for a FIFA Women’s World Cup.
However, the new fans and the momentum the team has garnered for women’s football will remain a legacy of this event for years to come thanks to the birth of the #KulaNation.
While the hard work on the field can be attributed to the players and their coach, Lisa Cole, what happened off the field is a credit to Fiji FA Executive Committee member, Naziah Ali.
Ali started the #KulaNation movement on social media, creating something for the public to get behind and show their support for the Fiji national team and its players.
“It’s an incredibly proud moment for the players and for the families and fans to come out, it’s important,” Cole said.
“We fight for each other out here but ultimately, to have the support of friends, family and even strangers, to go out there and acknowledge the fact that ‘hey, we can play’, and we CAN play.
“My message to those who have been supporting the team is just Vinaka. Thank you so much,” she continued.
“I have to say that Naziah led the way. Her team and the executives just putting it out there on twitter and being those first followers, it had people saying: ‘oh look, Naziah’s leading, let’s jump on that bandwagon with her’.
“And look what happened – it created a movement. I’m immensely proud of the support that Fiji’s come up with to support these young women.”
Ever modest, Ali said it wasn’t all down to her.
“I don’t want to take credit,” she said.
“What I did was I saw the girls, and I saw potential,” Ali said, “I knew that they needed the support of the country behind them.
“We’re hosting the tournament but usually women in football, women in sports in general, don’t get support from the public unless they do well.
“We wanted to change that narrative.”
With support from the Fiji FA media team, fans old and new could vocalise their support of the team while following every step of the journey up close through the online community.
The #KulaNation also saw a gradual increase in the stands, to the point that the final saw a record crowd of 5,921 fill the stands.
“We wanted to show that we can play well, we can reach a certain level, and we wanted to try and rally people together just to come and support the girls.
“It makes such a big difference when you’re playing on the field and you look out and there’s people in the stands.
“All I tried to do was shine a light on them and show people what I saw in them which is this incredible group of talented young girls who can do so much, and bring pride to our nation.
“That’s all I did, put attention on them.”
Ali said the team more than repaid the early faith she had in them with their performances and conduct both on and off the field.
“I’m so very proud of them,” she said.
“To be honest, just to reach the finals in the way that they have, they’ve fought through some difficult challenges over the last few weeks and it’s a testament to their willpower, to the inner strength they have.
“They may have lost the final, but in our eyes they’re winners.
“I know the whole country hasn’t changed their opinion to say ‘they’re no good anymore’, they have that image of them that they’re always doing better. There’s always another opportunity and I have no doubt we’ll do even better next time.”