As the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off in New Zealand and Australia, one of the most powerful figures in football is adamant there will be an explosion of interest among girls and women throughout Oceania.
FIFA Chief Women’s Football Officer Sarai Bareman worked for the Football Federation of Samoa and OFC before being appointed FIFA’s inaugural Chief Women’s Football Officer in 2016.
Speaking at the 29th OFC Ordinary Congress held in Auckland, Bareman admitted a range of emotions as she contemplated the biggest day in Oceania football history, the kick-off of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup at Eden Park when New Zealand meets Norway in front of more than 40,000 people.
“I feel all the emotions, I am excited, nervous, and exhausted but most of all I am anticipating. Being back at the Congress has hit home for me how special this World Cup is,” Bareman said.
It’s the legacy factor for the Oceania region which excites Bareman so much. She believes participation in women’s football will surge because of the month-long extravaganza in New Zealand and Australia.
“We saw that in France four years ago and in England at the last Euros, in the following month 850 thousand women and girls laced up their boots for the first time. Here in New Zealand but also right across the Pacific region we have got to be ready for that and that’s something I feel quite passionate about,” Bareman exuded.
“We are trying to capture in the legacy, that there is going to be a big boom in interest of girls and women wanting to play, to administer football, to referee football, wanting to be part of our sport and as clubs and associations we all need to stand ready to retain that interest.”
She acknowledged many sports fans in Oceania were possibly unaware just how big the tournament will be.
“Yes absolutely, those of us living and breathing the World Cup every day, know it and can breathe it but for the rest, once it kicks off and the matches start the fever will catch on and people will realise how massive this event is.”
Women and girls face plenty of barriers in football and one of the common complaints is ‘the boys wouldn’t pass me the ball.”
It’s a view Bareman believes will change for many boys and men once they have watched the world’s best female footballers in action.
“Absolutely you are going to see some of the best athletes in the world and it’s not only girls who will fill the stadiums it’s boys and men as well. And one of the most beautiful things I have seen around the streets here in Auckland is young boys wearing the jerseys of their female footballing hero’s and that’s what we want to see more of, and I think this World Cup will take things to the next level.”
OFC’s ‘This Is How We Football’ campaign is showcasing how girls and young women play football across Oceania, providing them pathways in the game.
Bareman is a case in point, from humble beginnings to being one of the most influential administrators in the sport.
“Football has given me so much in my life, it has given me my career and the opportunity to reach so many people in life and that started in the Pacific in Samoa and now it’s at a global level. There were big challenges especially as a woman coming into a male dominated industry but once I understood the power that football has especially in the Pacific, it allowed me to overcome a lot of those barriers and challenges.
“So I would say especially to women and girls who want to be part of this game go for it and if there’s a challenge or barrier in front of you don’t allow it to stop the passion that you have for the game.”
While the matches take place in New Zealand and Australia, Bareman is adamant the whole Oceania Confederation can feel a part of the tournament.
“One of the beautiful things about this World Cup is how we can highlight to the globe the indigenous cultures of New Zealand and Australia. The Maori culture which is so closely tied to our pacific culture in some of the languages and traditions, to see that on a world stage watched by more than 2 billion people around the world will be a very special moment not only for New Zealand but the entire Pacific region,”. she said.