One of the proudest moments of last month’s OFC Women’s Nations Cup was seeing three very special players take the field for Fiji. Sofi Diyalowai, Jotivini Tabua and player of the tournament Cema Nasau not only starred on the field, but also provided inspiration for the many children taking part in the OFC’s Just Play programme around the Oceania region. 

While the Fijian women lost the final 2-1 to Papua New Guinea, they inspired and enthralled many – including the almost 6,000-strong crowd that attended the game at HFC Stadium in Suva. It was a special night for the Just Play trio, who have been drawn together from across Fiji to represent their country. 

Diyalowai is a 29-year-old midfielder and national team captain from Natokalu Kubulau, Bua, and started playing football in 2009 and later became a referee in 2016. She has been part of the Just Play Programme for the last four years and attended her first capacity building training with the Just Play Team from the Northern, Western and Southern regions right after a Women’s Championship Competition. Diyalowai says participation is the key to the program, as Just Play is inclusive and everyone is welcome to participate despite of race, gender and culture.  

Inspiration is the most positive part of Just Play for Tabua, a 26-year-old from Raviravi, because it is where children learn the foundation and discipline of football. Her career in Just Play started as a volunteer coordinator and she was deployed during the Emergency Program for Cyclone Winston in 2016 in Qamea, Taveuni. Jotivini than became full time staffer in 2018 where she was based in Labasa, she later than became a Development Officer for Fiji Football in mid-2019.   

A name that lit up the Women’s Nations Cup was Cema Nasau. The 23-year-old from Koroqaqa in Ba province started playing football in 2015 and has been a volunteer for the Just Play Programme for the last three years. Nasau was crowned the Player Of The Tournament at the Women’s Nations Cup, after winning an unprecedented three player of the match awards in a row. 

Sofi Diyalowai leads her side out for the OFC Women’s Nations Cup final CREDIT: Kirk Corrie, OFC Media

It’s been an incredible output for Just Play, with OFC Head of Social Responsibility Michael Armstrong saying: 

“The Just Play programme offers children and young people with a positive first experience of football. When this is integrated into the football pathways it can create lifelong engagement in football and continued development of healthy lifestyle habits. It is fantastic to have role models like Sofi, Jotivini and Cema inspiring the next generation of national team players.” 

Just Play is a child and youth focused school and community-based programme using football as a tool for development. It enables children aged 6-18 years old to learn healthy lifestyle habits and social skills using specific themes related to football. Just Play is a springboard to developing capacity that goes beyond the sports field, and strengthens the community itself. The Just Play program reaches over 13,000 children and teens in Fiji, and has reached over 400,000 children around the Oceania region since 2009.  

This valuable work would not be possible without the support of New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Australian Aid and Team UP, and the UEFA Foundation for Children.