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Opportunities crucial for women’s football advancement

New Zealand celebrate after winning the OFC U-19 Women's Championship last year. Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek

Providing continued exposure to the top level of women’s football is one of the most valuable ways to help grow the game in Oceania.

Emma Evans has been the Women’s Development Officer for OFC for a year and believes women’s football has great potential in the Pacific.

At last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, every one of OFC’s 11 Member Associations had a representative attend the tournament in some capacity, which proved a valuable learning curve.

“Giving people from Oceania the opportunity to see women’s football on the world stage was great and for some of them, that was the first time. I think they realised how much potential there is in the game and how exciting it is,” Evans said.

“But it also highlights how much hard work needs to go into the game in our region to get it to that point, so it was a great chance for us to see the benchmark.”

New Zealand is part of the joint bid with Australia to host the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023.

That would provide another chance for an OFC Member Association to play their part in hosting a major global tournament and showcase the elite talent of the women’s game in our own backyard.

New Zealand hosted the inaugural FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2008 while Papua New Guinea hosted the U-20 event in 2016.

Both women’s age-group World Cups have 16 entrants with OFC guaranteed one spot. The men’s versions have 24 teams and OFC have two slots.

Evans said having the opportunity for OFC to have 1.5 spots or potentially two for the women’s youth tournaments in the future would provide additional motivation for Pacific nations.

The women’s youth tournaments in OFC have been dominated by New Zealand for the past decade.

Crucially though, participation levels are growing among the other Pacific nations as more time and resources are being invested in the women’s game.

All 11 Member Associations sent a team to the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship last year, including Tahiti who made their first appearance at the tournament and claimed third place.

The OFC U-16 Women’s Championship – that was meant to be held in Tahiti late last year – was postponed due to the measles outbreak in the Pacific and put on hold again recently due to the coronavirus pandemic.

While exposure at the top end is one way to grow the game, another vital aspect is grassroots development, Evans said.

An academy for women’s football was created in New Caledonia last year, while the Heilala Manongi project was launched in Tonga recently to provide more opportunities for women’s youth players.

New Zealand produced an historic third-place finish at the 2018 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup and Evans said their country’s Whole of Football plan helped lay some important groundwork.

“The Whole of Football plan shows how crucial it is to have a long-term plan that takes into consideration all pathways and is aligned to the wider organisation’s strategy.”

One thing Evans is focusing on during the coming months is capacity building for the Member Associations of OFC.

Five Member Associations have women’s development officers, but the goal is to boost that number.

“There’s a lot of passionate women that are already working in the football community that want to make a difference, now it’s about giving them the resources to be able to do that.”

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