The Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand has undoubtedly made significant strides in embracing and highlighting the Indigenous cultures of both nations.
Unlike any previous tournament, this edition has placed a strong emphasis on not only incorporating but also showcasing the rich heritage and traditions of the Indigenous communities.
The collaborative efforts of FIFA, under the guidance of a panel of six Indigenous women, have been instrumental in ensuring that the First Nations of Australia and the Maori culture of New Zealand are properly represented throughout the event.
However, despite these commendable efforts, there are certain Indigenous groups who feel that the commitment to creating a lasting legacy falls short of their expectations.
While the inclusion and celebration of Indigenous cultures during the Women’s World Cup are undoubtedly steps in the right direction, some believe that more can be done to leave a lasting impact on these communities.
In a remarkable and commendable move, the recently concluded World Cup witnessed a significant milestone in embracing cultural diversity and inclusivity.
For the very first time in the history of this prestigious tournament, all nine host cities were referred to not only in English but also in Indigenous terms in all FIFA materials pertaining to the event.
This groundbreaking decision, which extended to website content, signage, and broadcasts, not only paid homage to the rich heritage and history of the Indigenous communities residing in these regions but also served as a powerful symbol of unity and respect.
By incorporating these Indigenous names alongside their English counterparts, FIFA demonstrated a profound commitment to acknowledging and celebrating the unique identities and contributions of these communities within the broader context of the World Cup.
This progressive step not only fostered a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Indigenous cultures present in these host cities but also set a precedent for future international sporting events to follow suit in recognizing and honoring the diverse cultural tapestry of our global society.
Soccer organizers in Australia and New Zealand have made significant strides in promoting cultural inclusivity and respect by successfully advocating for the display of Indigenous flags at stadiums.
In New Zealand, a traditional karanga call, a ceremonial welcome, was performed before each match, while in Australia, the pre-game ceremonies featured a warm welcome to country by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander elders.
In preparation for the World Cup, FIFA executives underwent cultural awareness training, and upon their arrival, players participated in traditional ceremonies.
The tournament saw the participation of eight teams, including the United States, which expressed awe at the cultural welcome they received, acknowledging its significance for the New Zealand and Australian players, as well as the people of both nations.
However, Spain’s team faced controversy when they mocked the haka, a traditional Maori war dance, in a video shared on social media.
Captain Ivana Andres later apologized to elders and members of the Rangitane O Manawatu iwi (tribe) during a ceremony in Palmerston North, where the team was based during the group stage.
These incidents highlight the importance of cultural sensitivity and the need for mutual respect in the world of sports.
“Their words came from the heart, demonstrating a deep understanding of the significance of the haka not only to the Maori people but to the entire nation of Aotearoa,” emphasized Professor Meihana Durie, an Iwi representative.
In recent years, New Zealand has made commendable efforts to honor and celebrate its rich cultural heritage. It has become increasingly common to refer to the country as Aotearoa, meaning “land of the long white cloud,” highlighting the importance of indigenous language and history.
The traditional Maori greeting, Kia Ora, can be heard in everyday interactions at restaurants and shops, further demonstrating the nation’s commitment to preserving its cultural identity.
Sarai Bareman, FIFA’s head of women’s soccer, is of Dutch and Samoan descent and was raised in New Zealand.
She has been a witness to the numerous conversations from people around the world who have expressed their admiration for the inclusion of a “Welcome to Country” ceremony, which showcases the rich heritage of the First Nations and Maori cultures before each match.
This unique display of cultural pride has captivated the global audience, highlighting the beauty and diversity of these two remarkable cultures.
Despite the positive reception of the tournament’s inclusivity, some First Nations groups have raised concerns about Australia’s Legacy 23 plan, which aims to expand women’s soccer in the country beyond the World Cup.
These groups question the plan’s approach and its potential impact on the preservation and recognition of indigenous cultures.
As the tournament progresses, it is crucial to address these concerns and ensure that the growth of women’s soccer aligns with the principles of cultural respect and inclusivity that have been celebrated thus far.
Last month, Indigenous Football Australia’s council expressed its disappointment to FIFA in a letter, highlighting the lack of dedication towards Indigenous-led soccer organizations in the future.
The letter emphasized the irony of promoting Indigenous culture, symbolism, and traditions at the World Cup, while not allocating any funding from the legacy program to Indigenous-led organizations.
This absence of support for the Indigenous community and their programs was deemed as empty symbolism.
In response, the foundation established by John Moriarty, the first Indigenous player for Australia’s national team, initiated a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for their soccer initiatives aimed at benefiting First Nations children in remote communities.
While Football Australia claimed to prioritize the advancement of Indigenous football programs, IFA council member Ros Moriarty argued that their response failed to address the concerns regarding the violation of FIFA’s human rights statutes pertaining to self-determination for Indigenous peoples.
In discussing the legacy fund for the upcoming World Cup, the focus is not only on the recognition of Indigenous-led grassroots football programming and movement, but also on the allocation of funds to long-standing programs that have been instrumental in carrying the weight of football for Indigenous people in Australia.
This sentiment is echoed by veteran goalkeeper Lydia Williams and playmaker Kyah Simons, who are Indigenous players on the Matildas’ World Cup roster.
They believe that the lack of young Indigenous players in top national soccer teams highlights the need for greater attention to be given to the pipeline and engagement of Indigenous talent.
Without a specific allocation from the legacy fund, the World Cup on Australian shores would be seen as tone deaf, ignoring the progress made in acknowledging and recognizing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination.
In contrast, New Zealand’s program, Aotearoa United: Legacy Starts Now, demonstrates a commitment to increasing participation in sports for young girls from different backgrounds, including Indigenous communities.
The soccer federation has partnered with Maori Football Aotearoa and Sport New Zealand to develop a school program aimed at fostering greater engagement.
Andrew Pragnell, CEO of New Zealand Football, recognizes the growing popularity of the sport, with soccer being the most participated sport in the country.
He emphasizes the importance of creating well-connected environments that support young people from all walks of life to join the sport.
Overall, both Australia and New Zealand have unique approaches to promoting inclusivity and participation in soccer, with Australia seeking recognition and support for Indigenous-led programs, while New Zealand focuses on increasing engagement among young girls from diverse backgrounds.
By addressing these important aspects, both countries aim to create a more inclusive and diverse soccer community that reflects the values of their respective nations.