Marist Touch tournament to feature women for first time

Samoa's third Marist Touch tournament will have a women's division for the first time, and they will compete for the same amount of prize money as the men's division.

In just three years, the touch tournament has developed from being a men's only game in the first year, to including a mixed division in 2018 and finally this year, all three groups will be fielded on Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd March at the Marist St Josephs grounds in Lotopa.

Tournament director Taupau Alex Mikaele said he is passionate about driving gender equality in sports, and ensuring a level prize for teams is part of that.

"The committee agreed, keep that prize money same as the men’s, regardless of entries, to encourage women to participate," he said.

"We are using touch to drive the encouragement of women in sport, especially rugby, so if we can play a part in influencing them to participate in the Sevens then it might end up getting a level standard of prize money too."

Last month's Vailima Marist Seven's tournament prize money was markedly different between the men's and women's divisions, with the former winning T$20,000 and the latter just $5,000.

An assistant manager for the women's teams Felicity Pogi said being on the committee when they decided to include a women's division was exciting.

"For the past few years I was involved in helping the boys organize their tournament, then the mixed tournament, so having the women involved has been pretty exciting," she said.

Ms Pogi said she believes perhaps stereotypes about rugby being a 'men's sport' got in the way of women being included in the first Marist Touch tournament. But there was no battle to get a women's division in this year, nor to have equal prize monies.

"It was a natural decision, we didn’t really have to fight for equal prize money to be given to women’s division, it was naturally given," she said.

"All the other tournament’s [Marist] have had, the prize money for the women’s divisions is always lower that the men’s and mixed teams. Being able to have the same, standardized prize money is really good."

The prizes are set at $2000 for first place, and $800 for the runner up. The mixed division will compete for $3000 in first place and $1000 for the runner up.

Tournament director Taupau said the mixed division is the most competitive of the three in Samoa, and deserves a higher prize.

Samoa's mixed touch team won gold at the 2015 Pacific Games in Papua New Guinea, and in 2007 in Samoa. It also won the 2015 Touch World Cup, and today Samoa ranks 6th out of 27 teams in the mixed open rankings.

And Samoa Touch Rugby Incorporated president Mailata Michael Wulf said the mixed division also furthers gender equality.

"As a level playing field for the sport, encouraging not just a particular gender for the game but encouraging both women and men to be able to play touch. That's why Marist has put up the prize money," Mailata said.

"The main idea is to put in interest for that division, mainly because it's our main one when it comes to the Pacific Games and the World Cup."

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