Image credit: Carlos Rodrigues/FIFA/Getty Images

OFC Women’s Football Manager Emma Evans made the long journey last week to Lisbon, Portugal, where she was an important part of FIFA’s Coach Mentorship Programme.

The programme saw 39 men and women from around the world gather at the Portugal Football Federation’s Cidade do Futebol, the second physical workshop of FIFA’s 18-month long Coach Mentorship Programme. The second edition included two former FIFA Women’s World Cup winning coaches, and two Olympic Gold medal winning coaches among the mentors, passing on their knowledge and experience to a new generation of female coaches.

“This is the second edition of the programme, and till now, we have seen an under-representation of coaches from Africa and Oceania,” said Belinda Wilson, Senior Technical Development Manager in FIFA Women’s Football Development team.

Evans was joined by Confederation of African Football’s (CAF) Meskerem Ghoshime. 

“By inviting Emma and Meskerem, we are sharing our methodology, and seeking to connect with more female coaches, to ensure they have the same opportunities to benefit from the Coach Mentorship Programme.”

Over the duration of the 18-month long programme, mentors and mentees visit each other in their respective countries, and are also encouraged to develop regular online contact.

Evans explained that the Mentorship Programme was an exciting opportunity for OFC’s 11 Member Associations.

“The geographical spread in our region is huge,” said Evans. “While we don’t necessarily have a large population in our countries, some have hundreds of small islands. Of those, a number may only have a couple of hundred people living on them. It’s about trying to make education accessible to everyone.

“We also have challenges when it comes to online connectivity in some countries, so we must be flexible. That’s where programmes like this FIFA mentorship programme come in. It’s not a one-off course that’s delivered; it’s more one-on-one support. It’s greatly beneficial to see how it’s done on a global level. Then we’ll try to replicate it across our region.”

Those challenges are not unfamiliar to Ghoshime.

“We have 54 member associations with different cultures, different environments, and different stages of development of women’s football. That’s one of the biggest challenges we face,” the Ethiopian-born CAF Head of Women’s Football underlined.

“We have member associations that are very focused on coach education and have developed a lot of coaches already, while other member associations do not have that kind of capacity, and the number of women’s coaches is small. We are working to organise more female-based coaching courses, and this kind of coach mentorship programme can be a key educational course through which to do so.”

Over the four days, the mentors and mentees listened to FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura, Portugal Football Federation (FPF) President Fernando Gomes, FPF General Secretary Teresa Romao and FIFA Chief Women’s Football Officer Sarai Bareman, who all delivered speeches to the group. On Wednesday afternoon, there was a session with a difference, as the mentor-mentee cohort attended the latest leg of the FIFA Women’s World Cup trophy tour.

Wilson believes it’s critical that women’s football keeps pace with other growth areas.

“I think our national teams need to understand what’s happening in the club environment and vice versa. I think that’s an important discussion, a continuous discussion, that needs to happen over the next few years” she said.

“Coach development is not about turning up and just doing a coaching licence or badge. It is about putting that knowledge into practice. We do have member associations that have a consistent pathway, which is fantastic, but we do also see gaps. If you have the dream of becoming a coach at senior level, it’s really important for coach development to be included in that pathway.”

Evans highlighted OFC’s All In Strategy, which aims to increase the development, growth, sustainability, and professionalisation of the game, as well as the importance of leveraging the momentum and the excitement that the FIFA Women’s World Cup will bring to the OFC region.

“One of the things we’ve really tried to do here is take the Women’s World Cup to the Pacific. We want it to be visible. We want to break down the barriers so they can access games at the highest possible level. So, we’re creating a number of fan zones and hubs.

“Hopefully, that not only inspires young girls and young boys to play, but also lets the parents see that women’s football can be a career pathway for their daughters, for their granddaughters, and that it’s something that they can support. We’re really taking a holistic approach, making sure the infrastructure and pathways surrounding football are there, ready for when these girls see the FIFA Women’s World Cup.”

Ghoshime is excited about the opportunities for women’s football in the CAF region as well.

“The Women’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers helped us see the huge progress in terms of women’s football in different member associations. To see girls coming to watch women’s football in record-breaking numbers was a new thing for us and a game-changer.”