Samoa is not a country generally recognised for its soccer prowess, but the country’s top football official is not letting that stand in the way of her goal to see the so-called world game become Samoa’s top game, too.
The chief executive of Football Federation Samoa, Sarai Bareman, has taken on the job of raising the standard of the game in her country.
She says her goal is to elevate Samoa out of the Pacific bottom four, where it sits with Cook Islands, American Samoa and Tonga, into a position where it can compete with much stronger footballing nations like Fiji or New Zealand.
Ms Bareman says the Federation has started rebuilding football’s grassroots programs, especially those that target primary school aged children, with the aim of making the sport a first choice for young people.
But she’s told Pacific Beat, that will be a battle in a country where another football code holds sway.
“Rugby (union) is huge over here,” she said.
“It’s in every village and every kid’s dream is to be a Manu Samoa rugby player.
“So I guess the aim for us is to make football the top sport for kids.”
With Samoan team Kiwi FC qualifying for the 2014 Oceania Football Confederation Champions League, Sarai Bareman says the game’s profile will be lifted further.
“We now have a team that’s local that we can put up as role models for the young kids that are coming through, and also to showcase what we are capable of here in Samoa to the wider Pacific as well,” she said.
“We’re very pleased that they’ve made it through, (although) they’re in a very tough pool so it’s not going to be a easy task.”
Ms Bareman says Samoans are naturally gifted athletes with a good level of raw strength, speed and power.
With right training environment, she says, those natural abilities could be harvested, leading to the development of world class soccer players.
But before Sarai Bareman could fulfil her ambition of boosting football’s profile in Samoa, she had to take on the established male order, and endure a wave of sexist remarks and abuse.
She says the pathway has not been easy.
“Football is a man’s world and being female put up some barriers,” she said.
“But I think now certainly the criticism and the negative aspects that I dealt with earlier in my role have started to die down, and I’d like to think that my performance in the role is what has silenced those critics.”
Women and girls have approached her with their own stories of battling sexism.
“It’s clear to me the adversity that I faced is something that is very common here in the Pacific and especially within Samoa,” Ms Bareman said.
She’s been passionate about developing women’s soccer, believing that not only do girls have potential to become great players but they also gain social benefits of leadership and equality.
“Outside of football the thing that I really love most of all about this role is the impact that it can have on the social outcomes, especially for young people,” she said.
“Certainly for me, women’s empowerment is a big part of that.
APIA, (RADIO AUSTRALIA)