The mercurial return of football in Samoa

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 22 October 2016, 12:00AM

Once upon a time, football or soccer as we commonly refer to on these shores, went through a pretty rough patch.

Those in the know will tell you that claims of corruption, lack of accountability and poor administration on the part of the former administration team in terms of finances and other areas saw the sport and Samoa’s name dragged through the mud. 

Those were sad days, memories from a bad time perhaps best left there since the people involved are no longer there – with some having been called home.

What we want to say is that from the depths of those lows; we’ve seen over the years the gradual rise of the sport once more under new administrators. 

Fast forward to today, the refurbished Tuanaimato Football facilities speak of a revival that’s becoming more and more prominent we cannot help but marvel. It is worth talking about.

But it’s not just the sport that’s making a steady come back. The slow but steady return of football has come with the mercurial rise of some of the hardest working souls who have been responsible for a lot its recent success.  

One of the women who put in the hard work during the Normalisation period is former Football Federation Samoa Chief Executive, Sarai Bareman. She defied the odds at the time, taking on a role most people would have delegated to a man. She immediately made an impact and she hasn’t looked back.

Having left Samoa a couple of years ago, Ms. Bareman has now been appointed FIFA’s first Chief Women’s Football Officer, making her one of the most powerful women in world football today. 

This is a proud moment not just for Ms. Bareman, Football Federation of Samoa and her family but also for Samoa. Who would have dreamt that a Samoan would one day occupy such a prominent position? 

But this is what happens when one is faithful with whatever you are given. The sky is indeed the limit. And for Ms. Bareman, her experience in Samoa will prove invaluable, helping her as she continues to defy the odds and overcome those barriers. Her story is the stuff of inspiration.

 “Something that I have come to learn since my involvement in football is that the challenges that we face as women within football are the same all the world over,” she said. 

But the opportunities she believes are bigger than the challenges.

“At the moment it really is an untapped resource in terms of commercialisation of women’s football, I think even in terms of participation of players,” she said. 

“Part of the role, which is quite dear to my heart, is the use of football as a tool to assist with women’s empowerment and gender equality.  

“There are many countries in the world where women are not in good position because of their gender and I have seen through my work that football as a sport really does have a unique power to overcome some of these barriers.”

Well Ms. Bareman would know what she is talking about. She is a walking example of someone who has overcome those barriers.

“The thing that excites me is that it really is a position that can influence change and can lead change and to me this is one of the greatest aspects of the role.” 

Well who wouldn’t be excited about that?

Back in Samoa, Ms. Bareman left a solid platform for her predecessor the current Chief Executive Officer, Faumuina Michael Kapisi. During an interview with this newspaper earlier this week, Faumuina sounds like a man on a mission. 

 “Our vision is to change lives,” he said. 

“We believe that being a better association, not only for football but for sport, we want to be a respected, a leading institute in the country.

“In doing so, we believe we can help change lives and create better futures for our people. That’s our over arching vision.  

“We need to be better in what we do. By doing that we can help create pathways for our people and help better their lives.”

Which is precisely what is happening in Samoa today. Now feast your eyes on the story “A star in the making.” 

At 15-years-old, Tamaolefale is making history by becoming the first Samoan schoolboy to be selected for a football scholarship in New Zealand. And already Pele Tamaolefale is talking about becoming the next Tim Cahill.

 “I cannot wait to learn and expose myself to the game there, as well as showing the skills I have,” he said. “I believe that this is my future and I will make the most of it to become the next Tim Cahill for F.F.S.”

This is brilliant stuff. Who doesn’t get excited about this? But opportunities and the pathways created are not restricted to players and professional athletes. 

The Football Federation Samoa has already secured a spot for the first Samoan referee, Maria Tamalelagi, to officiate at the U20 World Cup next month. Not only is she the first Samoan, she is also the first woman referee to take part in the tournament. This is astonishing. 

“She’s the poster child for our young referees,” Faumuina. 

“Now they know, you’re not just coming to the field to hold up the stick and know where to go. If you commit to this as your profession, learn the rules, and keep your fitness up, there’s an opportunity for you to travel and make some money for yourself.  

“Going on these things isn’t something small, they travel first class everywhere they go.  They get a daily allowance and match fees.  It’s really a big option for her, she actually went to a tournament in Portugal and travelled all the way in first class.”

Well that sounds like the life, doesn’t it? 

All in all, these are exciting times for football in Samoa. 

We’re not saying they are there yet. 

There is still a lot of work to be done. 

But the signs are promising and the results are worth applauding. Now all we need is to get the Manumea National team to start overcoming our regional nemesis like Fiji, Tahiti and New Caledonia and Samoa will be well on its way again. 

The sky is certainly the limit.

Have a wonderful weekend Samoa, God bless! 

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 22 October 2016, 12:00AM

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