(Congratulations, Manu Sāmoa, for Uplifting the Nation)
By John Falaniko "Niko" Pātū
The People’s Team, despite falling short of its goal of moving onto the quarterfinals, has certainly made our country of just under 200,000 Samoans and more than half a million Samoans around the world, proud.
Unlike many of our Pacific and Indigenous sisters and brothers around the world who do not have their own country’s flag to hold up at an international sporting event, we as a Samoan people are fortunate to be able to be represented under our own banner.
For the Uveans and Futunans, the French flag is the only flag under which they can contest in the World Cup. For us Samoans, we have the opportunity to not only sending our sons to test in other nations, but have the privilege of representing our own.
But an arsenal of international stars comprising former All Blacks and Wallabies will not be enough to develop our team. It is certainly helpful, and a progressive step toward bridging the gap of experience in international level, but greater parity still needs to be achieved in other respects.
As head coach Vaovasamānaia Seilala Mapusua and many other players in the team have constantly iterated, teams such as Sāmoa and Tonga, so-called Tier-two nations, need more tests with Tier-one nations to gain experience and develop its teams. That is the primary way through which teams gain the needed experience to propel their players forward.
We as Samoan supporters, however, must also realize the harsh economic realities of providing these test matches. They require enough supply and demand and if we want to contribute to the overall development of our team, we must develop our fan base. Invest in more opportunities to attend games and contribute to the overall development of Sāmoa’s position World Rugby so we do not lose our place within future rankings. It is a numbers game, and at the moment we simply don’t have millions of people in comparison to other countries.
This does not, however, mean we cannot mobilize economically to support our team. We pour hundreds of thousands into fundraising for the team every year. We should also invest some of this money into programs that promote our people attending games, much like how other countries mobilize their fans to attend these large gatherings.
As more and more Samoan players develop their skills at international clubs and choose to come back to represent the People’s Team, our people must also meet them half way. They cannot be the only ones working to develop our team.
Management must also mobilize its fan base to wield more economic power in the supporting of its team. But the demographic shift from the Samoan archipelago to the diaspora, such as New Zealand, Australia, and the United States, has provided economic mobility that should be harnessed to develop the sport at home and internationally.
The governments of Sāmoa, and even American Sāmoa, must capitalize on this and mobilize its citizens and descendants in the diaspora to support its team by being present in the arena along with the players.
In Sāmoa, a Samoan Diaspora Relations Unit has been created to deal with the growing needs of the diaspora overseas. Avenues such as these should be utilized not only to support the burgeoning communities abroad but create networks of opportunities for them to contribute to the development of the Manu Sāmoa brand.
As Sāmoa inches closer and closer every year to close the gap between more economically well-off rugby nations and the emerging nations, such as the Pacific, everyone must contribute to the collective growth and well-being of our rugby nation.
In the meantime, we must commend the Manu Sāmoa for the sacrifices they have made, in leveraging their experience, name recognition, and personal brands to uplift the nation. And as always, we continue to express our gratitude to the Atunuʻu for the unending tapuaʻi (support).
Mālō faʻaeaea Atunuʻu!