'Iron Lady' remembered as rugby pioneer

Tributes have poured in for a woman who was a pioneer for women rugby in Samoa as well as a former Manu Samoa team manager.

Marina Schaffhausen, who was affectionately called the ‘Iron Lady’ at the peak of her career, was the first woman to ever manage the national rugby team Manu Samoa. 

She set high standards for players as well as delivered results, having been at the helm of the Samoan Sevens team that famously achieved a historic win in the 1993 Hong Kong Sevens tournament. 

Earlier this year, Schaffhausen was awarded a Lifetime Contribution Award by the Marist St. Joseph’s Sports Club Inc. in recognition of her service to national rugby. 

Members of a local organisation dedicated to promoting inclusivity for women in sports, Apelu Sports, said they were saddened by her loss.

 "Marina is the reason why I got into coaching; she was extremely proactive in setting up management practices and she came and urged me to take on the Laulii rugby team back then," said Uaea Apelu. "Marina's distinction is she broke the glass ceiling and she sat in with the men. She was that daring and she stood up to the male attitude to exclude females from rugby.”

Gabrielle Apelu, a former Manu Sina captain, said Schaffausen’s legacy is the number of young players she has inspired. 

"From Falefa to Apia to overseas. The sheer number of people she looked after is staggering. She was savvy, she was forthright and she was strong,” she said. "Having seen her in action it is a level I can only aspire to. Marina [had] a certain style and she is a very rare female that commands respect and attention within male-dominated arenas. To have started that in the 80s is especially groundbreaking considering how difficult it was for females back then.”

In a written statement issued on Monday, the organisation said some of Samoa’s biggest international players had careers launched after Schaffausen called them to play club rugby, including overseas players such as Junior Paramore, Michael Jones and Apollo Perelini.

“The Iron Lady is an apt moniker given her will and determination. [She was the] first woman to have ever been involved with Samoa Rugby in its infancy back when there were 18 sub unions,” the statement said. “As the sole woman's voice, Marina instilled discipline, a rare feat, from the rugby players she managed which have included some big names such as Michael Jones, Taufusi Salesa, Tauloa Lui to name a few.”

The former manager is also the grandmother of the renowned Samoan movie star, Albert Tupuola, better known as Safuiane from the Samoan film 'Matai'.

Mr. Tupuola previously told the Samoa Observer that his grandmother was one of the main inspirations in his life and his career.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Schaffhausen’s funeral will be live-streamed for members of her family with only a limited number of people able to attend the service in person. 

Attempts by the Samoa Observer on Monday to get comments from her relatives in New Zealand and Samoa were unsuccessful.

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