Nuku’alofa – April 6, 2021: 4.05pm (FIFA.com): The FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia/New Zealand 2023™ reached another milestone this week with news of which cities and stadiums will host the world in a couple of years’ time. But if you think the regional impact of the first southern hemisphere edition of the tournament is restricted to Australia and New Zealand, think again.
Numerous Oceanian nations are now pushing all aspects of women’s football with greatly heightened vigour, and few are doing more than Tonga.
General Secretary of the Tonga Football Association (TFA) Lui Aho says there has been “more interest from communities to register new women’s team” since confirmation that female football’s greatest jamboree would be heading Down Under.
Much of that added local interest is being stoked by the work of the TFA, with assistance and guidance from FIFA. Unusually for OFC nations, the TFA now boast two women’s development officers helping to service the nation’s islands, not just the Tongatapu mainland.
Like its Pacific neighbours, Tonga have been further incentivised by the opportunity to feature in the FIFA Women’s World Cup play-off event. OFC nations will compete for one spot at the 2023 ten-team event, with three of those nations eventually qualifying for the 32-nation finals.
With New Zealand qualifying automatically, the race among OFC nations has heated up. Doubly so with traditional Pacific heavyweights Papua New Guinea being outdone by Fiji for the first time at the most recent OFC Women’s Nations Cup in 2018. Tonga also has the potential to add to its stocks with both Australia and New Zealand home to a massive Tongan diaspora.
While Tonga’s impetus has gained significant over the past few years, women’s football is not new for the Polynesian nation. Tonga won a bronze medal in their maiden outing at the Pacific Games in 2003. Tonga have subsequently enjoyed several strong showings at continental level with their women’s national team enjoying a comparatively greater level of success than their male counterparts, in a nation where rugby has traditionally held sway as the main sport.
Encouraged by such opportunities for the small, 100,000 country, Adelaide Tuivailala, Head of Women’s Football at the TFA, and a graduate from the FIFA Female Leadership Course in 2017, has been adeptly plotting a course for the local game. Backed by a women’s football grant from world governing body, the TFA have set out some ambitious plans around four key areas:
- Governance and Leadership
- Access and Participation
- Awareness and Promotion
At grassroots level, the TFA have enjoyed significant success with ‘Heilala Manongi’, a locally tailored football program intended to introduce girls to the game. Now introduced across the four main islands, the program has become well known in the general community and is an important pathway for players, coaches and volunteers.
Historically there has been some resistance to female wearing shorts while playing sport. “It has been so exciting to see more girls playing football nowadays, and we will build a safe environment for them,” Tuivailala told FIFA.com. “That includes female players, female coaches, female referees or female administrators.”
Among further goals are more females in leadership positions and subsequent increased participation in the decision-making process, access to well-structured football facilities and improving the sheer volume players. Tonga has already achieved significant success at the latter.
As Aho told FIFA.com, one of the overarching goals is “developing a new image for women’s football in Tonga and ensuring that there are opportunities for all women and girls, be it on or off the pitch.”