If passion and raw enthusiasm for growing women’s football is any gauge, then the Pacific is set to richly benefit from Emma Evans. Appointed as OFC’s Women’s Football Development Officer in early 2019, Evans has set about developing the women’s game right across the Pacific from the ground up.
The Pacific is ripe for such development and, talking to Evans, one has the feeling that the right person is driving Oceania’s 11 Member Associations towards building the game across all levels. And with the FIFA Women’s World Cup heading to the region in 2023, there has never been a better time.
Evans has packed a lot of football experience into a relatively short amount of time. Football has been an ever-present in her life since she first donned oversized shin pads for Wellington side Miramar Rangers, aged just four.
An undiagnosed knee injury as young as nine scuppered chances of major on-field successes, but ultimately helped direct Evans towards a burgeoning and productive off-field career.
With three knee surgeries by the age of 19 Evans realised “my focus was definitely going to have to shift”. A blessing in disguise? Perhaps. “It allowed me to have a career in football, just not what I thought it was going to be,” Evans told FIFA.com.
“I was lucky to have some key people who helped me stay involved in the game, through coaching,” Evans adds, citing Natalie Lawrence. Holder of a B Licence, Evans also enjoyed a stint as assistant to the much-heralded New Zealand side which went on to make history with a bronze medal at the 2018 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.
By 24, she was coaching Capital Football in the New Zealand national league and was tasked with leading the local game as the region’s women’s development officer.
Four years later, Evans finds herself in the role of driving women’s football’s growth right across the Pacific.
“We’re very fortunate to have someone with her passion and drive, not only for football, but in wanting to provide greater opportunities for women and girls across Oceania,” said OFC Technical Director Patrick Jacquemet at the time of her appointment, neatly encapsulating Evans’ attributes.
In a short space of time, the growth has been tangible. When Evans commenced work, there were only four women’s development officers and no-one recently in the OFC development role.
Now there are 11 officers across nine of the 11 associations, with Samoa and Tonga boasting two each. More than that, there is an engaged troupe of motivated personnel under her tutelage.
“Women’s football wasn’t necessarily a priority within OFC or within the member associations when I started,” said Evans, who is currently assisting with the outline of OFC’s upcoming women’s football strategy.
“We have seen that development officers really help because there is someone accountable, someone who is there to push other people to grow the game and run programmes, so that has meant huge progress.
“With the Women’s World Cup coming our way, local member associations are starting to really focus and prioritise women’s football. It has been massive, and it has given this region real hope.
“The Women’s World Cup gives extra visibility to those countries who will be able to see that women’s football is massive globally and can provide opportunities. It also means that people will notice what is happening in this side of the world, and what Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific has to offer.
“Obviously women’s football is behind here compared to most of the world, but that gives us an opportunity to mould it to influence things suitable to a local level in the Pacific, not simply putting together a Euro-centric model, but one which suits local conditions.”
There has been something of an epiphany for Evans since engaging closely with women across the Pacific, many of whom have not been afforded such an opportunity in football, or even in society.
“My love and passion for the role probably helped me through some tough times in my life.” Evans said. “It was where I felt at home, it connected me to people and some of the best friendships and memories I have are through football.
“But since I started in this role, I thought it was a deep passion for football, it is actually a deep passion and desire to help the lives of other people, especially women. What drives me every day is to positively impact the lives of women through football.
A by-product of that is that we have better players, better coaches, better referees, better people in the game, but it all starts from making that first impact.
“It has been an interesting shift in mentality. It has been really good for me to understand why I do things and understand what my purpose is, but it took 15 years of working and volunteering in football to understand it is about wanting to make a difference to the lives of people.
“Visibility is crucial. If you can’t see it, you can’t be it. For me now it is about having women in key roles across the game to have that visibility. There is still so much work to be done across all layers of the game, but the impact that will have when we get there is massive.”
Courtesy of FIFA.com