Tuesday, June 13, 2006

“Sala'ilua's Cahill creates history”

That's right. The Savaii village of Sala'ilua's own Tim Cahill has created history, becoming the first Australian, no wait, Samoan, to score a goal for Australia in a World Cup final tournament.

One can hardly begrudge Samoa for being proud of the achievements of one of its sons, even though he does not hold Samoan citizenship and hasn't lived in Samoa at all. The reason is simple: Samoans have unfortunately had to become used to seeing those sporting talents who are eligible for Samoan representation get snatched up by neighbouring countries. Take a look at the New Zealand All Blacks lineup, of which about half are Samoans. Even if we exclude Tana Umaga due to his retirement from the ABs, we still have Mils Muliaina, Jerry Collins, Chris Masoe, Casey Laulala, Aaron Mauger, Rodney So'oialo, Jerome Kaino, Keven Mealamu, Neemia Tialata and Ma'a Nonu in the squad. Maybe we should start calling them the Samoan All Blacks.

This is not to say that it's outright thievery. Obviously these are individuals who have grown up in New Zealand (or Australia in the case of Cahill) and have benefited from the sporting resources available to them. But without a comparable economic base and training and development infrastructure it's difficult to see how Samoa could ever really compete in securing quality players. This is why initiatives such as the IRB's High Performance Unit program, which will see a far greater investment in local sporting infrastructure for Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, are very necessary.

The IRB and its investment in Samoan rugby is not the only initiative worthy of mention. There is considerable effort being expended by aid agencies in boosting the capacity of most of Samoa's sporting organisations. Coaches and trainers from overseas are helping local coaches develop better training programs for their players. New facilities are being built to international standards (such as the FIFA-approved soccer field at Faleata). The provision of this aid has been timed to ensure Samoa will be able to successfully host next year's South Pacific Games, but the longer term goals are also clear. Improved sporting infrastructure and greater opportunities for local players can only have a positive effect on the future prospects of Samoa's national sporting teams.

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