Game Changers: Samoa’s Sporting Sisterhood

08 March 2016, 12:00AM

ABC - As Samoa celebrates the election of Fiame Naomi Mataafa as the H.R.P.P’s deputy leader, the country has already placed the future of many of its major sports in the hands of female leaders. 

On this International Women’s Day, Samoa’s top women in cricket, netball, football and rugby league come together to explain how they are both fierce competitors and a formidable team.

Stella was hit by a cricket ball and left nursing a bruised side. Rosemarie had no idea she’d be on a netball court for half a century. Lynetta turned her hand to every sport when she was little; football was just another game. And Gabrielle’s first memory of rugby league was just how skimpy the shorts were.

There was little indication from those awkward and inauspicious first encounters, but these women would go on to devote their professional lives to their respective sports and play a major role in the shaping of sport, and the very future of Samoa.

While in many places across the globe, finding a single woman in a senior position in a major sports organisation is rare, in Samoa, it is the norm. Rosemarie Esera is the C.E.O of Netball Samoa, Sala Stella Siale-Vaea Tangitau is the General Manager of Samoa Cricket, Gabrielle Apelu is the National Rugby League Game Development Manager for Samoa and Lynetta Laumea Faaiuaso is the Women’s Football Development Officer for Football Federation Samoa and Just Play Project Manager. All four sports are part of the Pacific Sports Partnerships (PSPs), Australian Government-funded development programs. 

Globally, sports administration has a reputation for being competitive and cut-throat. In Samoa, the approach is more collegial, especially within the PSPs.

“We share and talk about our challenges and discuss how we can overcome them,” explains Rosie.

“Samoa is a small island state and we are all going to the same audience, the children. Therefore we need to work together so that we can achieve our respective objectives and goals.”

All agree.

“We talk about many things,” says Stella.

“About ways we can support each other and reflect on ourselves and how we can do things differently.”

All four sports want to develop world-class, elite athletes while simultaneously delivering grassroots introductions; to their sports, and healthy lifestyle choices. It means the administrators have an extraordinary job brief that can encompass everything from strategic management to sponsorship, brand management, human resource management, high performance management and even occasional line-marking and ball-chasing.

“If it needs to be done, then do it regardless of what resources you have,” says Rosie.

“I have formed various partnerships with sporting bodies, NGOs and government entities but my broader job is to develop grassroots level and increase female participation,” explains Gabrielle.

“If I wasn’t good I wouldn’t be sitting right here and managing everything - both work and family,” adds Lynetta.

While much progress has been made in the development of Samoa, many issues still concern the quartet, from child vendors to unemployment and governance. The issue of sexism, though, draws a mixed reaction.

“As the only female in rugby league here in Samoa, I’m a bit of an oddity,” laughs Gabrielle.

“I’m a pretty strong character and have strong convictions on where I want this program to go. I’m not easily shaken and in my role as Manager I’ve got a ‘pair of big ones’ so I can roll with the big boys.”

“I have no problems being a woman in this role,” says Stella.

“I think the mentality has changed in the last few years not only in sports but in Samoa where we see more and more females as general managers and chief executive officers for government ministries, private sector and non government organizations.”

Lynetta broadly agrees.

 “There are no difficulties if men and women respect each other and work together to achieve goals,” she says. Rosemarie says sexism exists, but is not insurmountable. “At the end of the day it all comes down to performance,” she says. “Equal access and opportunities.”

Each woman has a vision for her sport, from more professional facilities, to participation growth or elite development. Through their co-operative approach, however, a united vision for the children of Samoa is emerging.

“A core group of women leaders in sport - netball, cricket, rugby league and soccer - are in dialogue to work together to create a major holiday development program,” reports Rosemarie.

If this pioneering quartet proves nothing else, any one of those children playing any one of the sports in any one of those holiday camps could one day be a leader of Samoan sport; but they should be prepared to become a team player, and perhaps cop the odd bruise.

08 March 2016, 12:00AM

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