The recent announcement of the intention to expand the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ to 32 teams has piqued the interest of young women across Oceania.
Although the exact allocation of World Cup berths is yet to be determined, for the Member Associations within the Oceania Football Confederation, an expanded format offers greater odds of a chance to take part in the pinnacle event on the women’s football calendar.
New Zealand haven’t relinquished their hold on the regional title at any level of women’s football since the departure of Australia to the Asian Football Confederation in 2006. With strong development pathways in place they are likely to continue that dominance into the near future.
However, for the rest of the region the change has the potential to bring the opportunity to join New Zealand on the world stage closer than ever, and perhaps much sooner than anticipated.
Which means the hard work has to start now, according to OFC Women’s Football Development Officer Emma Evans.
“What this does is causes the MAs to realise that investing in the women’s game we hope will translate into more opportunities on the world stage,” Evans said.
“Hopefully with the addition of an extra spot for Oceania we will start to see more MAs competing with New Zealand Football and really driving for a spot at the world cup as well.”
This sentiment echoes FIFA President, Gianni Infantino’s, explanation following the unanimous decision from the FIFA Council.
“The expansion reaches far beyond the eight additional participating teams; it means that, from now on, dozens more member associations will organise their women’s football programme knowing they have a realistic chance of qualifying,” he said.
But how exactly will this change effect women’s’ football development in Oceania? According to Evans the opportunities are vast.
“Hopefully it not only affects the teams at the top but also what it starts to do is encourage MAs to really focus on grassroots football and make sure that the pathways and the leagues are in place so we are not just sending teams to international competitions which have only been in a camp, but which have been playing in regular competitions.
“Long term, those leagues may even become professional, but right now it’s more about focusing on making sure that the base is build, they we have good, solid structures, which are sustainable, in place.
“And hopefully that will see Oceania, and women’s football in Oceania, go from strength to strength.”
Evans believes the foundations are being laid in each country across the OFC, and it is only a matter of time before the results start coming.
“I think ensuring that every MA has a key person driving the game, a women’s football development officer, and making sure that programmes below that, such as grassroots festivals, development centres, national academies or centres of excellence, are really thriving in each of those MAs.”
“For OFC the real focus now lies in making sure that we are ready to compete on the world stage and not just run programmes for the sake of running programmes.
“I am really excited and I can’t wait to see what this does for women’s football in Oceania,” Evans concluded.