After two years of online calls and emails, the OFC Women’s Development Officers finally met in person this week in the lead up to the Women’s Nations Cup in Fiji. 

The pandemic has brought many challenges to football in the region, with restrictions on travel meaning that competitions have been unable to proceed. It’s also meant that meeting in person has been impossible, making it difficult for our women’s development officers to share ideas and experiences.

That all changed on Tuesday in Suva, when a number of Development Officers from across the Pacific met for the first time at the OFC Women’s Football Conference, held to coincide with the UN Women summit and the tournament itself. It was an emotional experience, with the day not just about learning but also talking about how the last two years have affected each other.

“It’s been so fun with my friends here,” said Margarette Iati from the Vanuatu Football Federation.

“I’m so excited to be at this Women’s Football Conference, I’ve been in this role for a year and half now so this is big opportunity for me. They accepted me as a Development Officer, but this is the first conference I have attended. Everything I learned today is important to me.”

“It was definitely a privilege to be in the same room as the OFC technical team,” said Antoinette Miniti from the Solomon Islands Football Federation.

“It’s a special moment for me. From today’s session, having discussions with everyone in the room gives you added knowledge. I think it’s important to have an open mind and to share the experiences that we have in the Solomons.”

Vani Buadromo from the Fiji Football Association was especially excited to be welcoming her fellow Development Officers to her home country.

“Seeing them virtually, I thought some of them were much taller and shorter! When I saw them face to face, it was totally different. It’s so great to have them here, getting them to come to Suva and experience the ‘bula spirit’ is a great thing.”

The day was mainly focused on making sure that all the Development Officers could meet, with Tupou Patia-Brogan from the Cook Islands Football Association saying it was great to talk about what challenges each other and what they are capable of.

“Our academy programmes, school programmes haven’t been able to connect with the women players [due to the pandemic restrictions], so it’s great to meet up here in Fiji for the first time. Just being able to talk about having balance in our lives, things that we find challenging and how we can improves our role in women’s football,” Patia-Brogan said.

One thing is constant among the Women’s Development Officers: they are all extremely excited about the OFC Women’s Nations Cup, with the first match kicking off on Wednesday night in Suva between Samoa and Tonga.

However, no matter who comes out victorious at the end of the tournament, there’s already a win in terms of women’s football development.

“The most important thing is connecting and sharing ideas,” said Buadromo.

“And sharing the fact that we survived the pandemic, I always prayed that no one’s life would be taken by COVID-19 until we meet each other in reality.”