The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand – the first edition to be held in the Southern Hemisphere – offers a unique opportunity to provide impetus to local women’s football and leave a lasting legacy in the Pacific region.
With those broad overarching goals in mind, OFC launched their first Women’s Football Strategy in July. The strategy lays down guidance, purpose and guidelines for all 11 Member Associations in the region and, it is hoped, will inspire and empower females across all sectors of the game.
The headline ambition is for the OFC to provide two competitive teams at the 2027 Women’s World Cup, but the five key pillars of the strategy are largely focussed around building a strong base. Those priority areas are participation, visibility, education, performance and culture.
Already some strong foundations have been put in place by the OFC in recent years, with all Member Associations now employing at least one full-time Women’s Football Development Officer. The strategy’s implementation will provide equal opportunities for girls and women, open up pathways and offer increased visibility.
“OFC’s strategy lays the foundations to drive women’s football to the next level,” said Sarai Bareman, FIFA Chief Women’s Football Officer. “The context of the women’s game in Oceania is unique, which is why it is so important to have a tailor-made strategy. By highlighting five priority areas, the ‘ALL IN’ strategy provides the region with a roadmap to accelerate the growth of women’s football.”
With the focus on visibility and culture in mind, OFC appointed a Women’s Football Ambassador in all nations. From New Zealand’s Women’s World Cup defender Meikayla Moore to Papua New Guinea’s 2016 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup skipper Yvonne Gabong, each ambassador boasts a local profile and the ability to be a role model for young female footballers.
Vanuatu’s ambassador Rita Solomon, a national team midfielder and former U-20 skipper, perfectly fits the bill. At the 2019 OFC Women’s U-19 Championship, the youngster called on government and local authorities to actively assist women’s football. The response was immediate, with Vanuatu’s Ministry of Education quickly setting in place a program which raised a significant amount of money for local women’s football.
“I have always wanted to be a role model to young girls in my region since I was little, so this being an OFC Ambassador is like a dream come true,” Solomon told FIFA.com. “(I can help) young girls set their own standards of achieving their goals, not just in this beautiful game, but in life.”
Articulate and thoughtful beyond her years, Solomon says there are no cultural barriers for women who wish to play football in Vanuatu. Lacking, however, are the same volume of opportunities to play football in comparison to males, with such accessibility being a key feature of OFC’s strategy.
“In my country, many girls are interested in playing football but there’s not enough opportunities compared to boys,” Solomon said. “If there’s pathways and opportunity I can assure you that women’s football in Vanuatu will be more effective at this time compared to past years.”
At international level, the next major milestone is the 2022 OFC Women’s Nations Cup, with the continental championship doubling as 2023 Women’s World Cup qualifiers.
“Hosting the Women’s World Cup in the Pacific really helps football federations set their focus on reviving women’s football,” said Solomon. “This helps motivate young girls to get themselves involved more in order to get an opportunity to be part of the Women’s World Cup.”