Good governance and international support can take Samoa’s sports teams further: Fiame

Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa said while Samoa has come a long way on improving sports governance, there is still work to be done.

From her time as Minister of Education, Sports and Culture in 1991, Fiame has seen Samoa’s sports administrators try hard to improve governance, especially within the context of a small nation whose sports administration is often intersecting.

“There are some sports that have done really well,” she acknowledged, “for example, our weightlifting.

“What you find there is very committed people, technical people and the governance is good. They are athlete focused, which is how it should be.”

There is a strong level of female athlete representation in the Pacific Games this year too, which is encouraging, she said.

But countries must maintain that between international or regional events.

“Countries tend to pull themselves up for these competitions,” she said.

“The real challenge is on the ongoing development locally, creating depth in the sport and achieving higher and higher standards.”

The Deputy Prime Minister wants to see more local representation in Samoan teams competing on the international stage, which takes resources and good governance to achieve. 

Rugby has seen strong local numbers in their squads this year. 10 out of the 12 Pacific Games rugby 7’s men’s team sports are home-grown. The Fetu Samoa 9’s has six locals, while Toa Samoa has 11. 

“For small countries, to support a wide spread of sports is quite challenging. 

“I think that’s why rugby has such a high profile here: it’s an international game, the locals love it, and at least we have a women’s team as well,” she said.

Against rugby’s success, the struggle netball faces to develop and reach professional heights is stark.

 “Last week I went to see the demonstration netball game between the team going to the World Cup in Liverpool and the team who will be playing for the Pacific Games.

“Most of both teams were recruited from New Zealand and Australia, so I think that is a challenge to us locally to ensure that representation is home grown.”

But international support and sponsorship can cut through the local budget hardships to boost sports activities. Fiame said FIFA has proven that.

“I have to mention soccer, and give credit to FIFA with their international support and sponsorship of development. 

“All those factors, local, regional, international, they all have a part to play in the development of sport.”

The Australia-Pacific Sports Linkages program is partly a grants program, getting athletes and officials to Australia to train and develop, getting access to expertise outside of their island nations. 

During a reception for athletes hosted by the Australian High Commission, Minister for Youth and Sport Richard Colbeck said those linkages will create pathways to professionalism for athletes, and is an opportunity to help people reach their potential.

Fiame said while it may help local players develop, there is always a risk those athletes remain in Australia and play for Australian teams.

“It’s like our students that go on scholarship,” she said.

“Those are always the risks and challenges with access and opportunities but it doesn’t mean we should stop it. 

“At the end of the day it does all go around and you hope that people do come back.”

Additional reporting by Thomas Airey.

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