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Samoa shows sports diplomacy can work in our region

By Jeffrey Wall - posted Friday, 25 November 2022


The credible performance by the Samoan team against the all-conquering Kangaroos in the rugby league World Cup final opens up a unique opportunity for Australia to broaden its regional sports diplomacy agenda.

Samoa is a recent arrival to the international rugby league scene. Until recently rugby union dominated.

To be beat Australia by 30-10 in the final was a very credible performance. It built on good performances by Tonga and Fiji in the cup rounds. Sadly, Papua New Guinea has gone backwards since the last World Cup.

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Until recently Australian Government funding for rugby league has been focussed on PNG. There is now an excellent opportunity to extend that to Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, and not just rugby league.

Recently the government announced some funding for rugby union in Fiji.

What is needed is a much more substantial funding package for all major sports across the region, including women's sports.

It is barely a year since there were clear signs Samoa was drifting into the China "camp".

The election of a new Prime Minister and some deft diplomacy by Penny Wong has turned that around.

The Samoan team performance served as a major source of national unity and pride. It also opened the door for even closer ties with rugby league in Australia.

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More than half the NRL first grade players are Pacific Islanders or Maori. A large number have Samoan heritage. I'm told that at the juniors levels the percentage is even higher.

The key to effectively doing so is to substantially boost funding and broaden it to grass roots and women's sport.

It has long concerned me that most programs are targeted towards "elite performance" programs.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Wall CSM CBE is a Brisbane Political Consultant and has served as Advisor to the PNG Foreign Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu Prime Minister 1988-1992 and Speaker 1994-1997.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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