Monday 12 June 2023, 14:00

Secretary General hails Melanesia’s hunger for football after completing New Caledonia visit

FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura has concluded a busy visit to New Caledonia and Vanuatu ahead of the upcoming FIFA Women's World Cup™ in Australia and New Zealand. The Secretary General conducted a two-day visit to French-speaking New Caledonia on Sunday, following a first stop in Vanuatu.

The Francophone nation has a strong football tradition despite admittance as a FIFA member only in 2004. New Caledonia will appear in their second FIFA U-17 World Cup™ later this year, and famously produced a FIFA World Cup™ winner in Christian Karembeu. The primary purpose of the visit was to assess the status of the federation, the local development of women's football and evaluate how the world governing body can continue to provide support. Sunday morning commenced with grassroots action with the Secretary General able to see first-hand the stars of tomorrow as U-9 and U-11s mixed teams showed their wares at the Edouard Pentecost Stadium.

FIFA's chief administrator enjoyed a cultural welcome at the federation's main complex before the FCF’s technical team presented their strategy for 2023-26 which focuses on good governance and administration, increased professionalism of football at all levels, enhancing the performance of clubs and national team, including beach soccer and futsal. The current facilities were completed in 2021 using FIFA Forward funds and there are plans for expansion with two additional pitches and expansive accommodation facilities.

FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura and Gilles Tavergeux, New Caledonia FA President

It has been a special week for women's football in New Caledonia with local side AS Academy Féminine winning the first ever edition of the OFC Women's Champions League in Papua New Guinea. In the final match, needing just a point to seal the title, they fell a goal behind to beat Koloale FC, before roaring back to win 4-1 in Port Moresby. AS Academy Féminine had stunned home-town favourites Hekari United on the opening match day with a 100th minute winner. That 2-1 victory, alongside 4-1 and 5-0 triumphs over Labasa Women FC and Kiwi FC respectively had the New Caledonian side needing only a point to claim the title. Instead, they finished the tournament with a perfect four wins from four matches and head home to Noumea on Sunday as the inaugural OFC Women's Champions League champions.

"It was very encouraging to see a club from New Caledonia win the OFC Women's Champions League and I'm grateful to the federation for their support of youth development, especially women's football," said FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura. "The federation is working hard on strategic and long-term plans to further develop new football stars and foster the younger generation, teaching life skills such as team spirit and healthy living that extend far beyond the markings of a football pitch. "FIFA, along with our staff, technical experts, and funding and development programmes, are here to support them, as they continue the work already underway. More globally, FIFA is committed to women's football development through our eight bespoke programmes, as well as expanding the FIFA Women's World Cup to 32 teams, significantly increasing prize money, and reviewing plans for a FIFA Club World Cup for women."

Sunday's activities concluded with a visit to the Tjibaou Cultural Centre on the outskirts of Noumea to learn about traditional local Kanak culture. The site encompasses an art centre, a museum, performance spaces, a library, and a landscaped park. Named after the Kanak political leader Jean• Marie Tjibaou (1936-1989), the Tjibaou Cultural Centre was constructed to celebrate the history and culture of the local Kanak people, and to recognise the cultural diversity that exists within the wider Pacific region. Before departing, the FIFA Secretary General had time to reflect on the huge passion for football exhibited by children across both legs of her visit. She will return to New Zealand and Australia shortly, as the build-up to next month's FIFA Women's World Cup continues, ahead of the tournament kick off on 20 July.