The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup is breaking new ground, and it’s not just on the pitch where strides are being made.
For the first time ever, a three-woman commentary team from Vanuatu and Fiji, have been commentating on New Zealand’s matches in their native languages.
Adele Willie and Jennesa Hinge Moli, both from Vanuatu, and Lavenia Yalovi, who is Fijian, have followed the Football Ferns from Le Havre to Grenoble and Montpellier, calling their games for the Oceania Football Confederation website.
In a world-first, the trio predominantly commentate the games in Bislama, which is a native language common in Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
“I’m the analyst for the game, and I do that in English,” said Lavenia, who played football, rugby and hockey for Fiji. “Jennesa calls the play-by-play in Bislama, while I analyse in between. So, I understand what they’re saying and are talking about, and then analyse the game in English.
“Everywhere you go in the Pacific, they understand English, even if they are not fluent. But in the majority of the Pacific Islands, if you speak Bislama, they will understand it. So, between all three of us, we find an in between to bring the game to the people.”
The project was eight months in the making, with the trio first teaming up for commentary duties last August. After impressive performances calling games on a regional scale, FIFA got wind of what they were doing and helped fund their trip to France.
As Adele said. “This is the first time for Vanuatu that we’ve had only females commentating, and it’s a first for FIFA now too. It feels like we’re ambassadors for Vanuatu.”
For Jennesa, who is a sports journalist in Vanuatu, the chance to make the world game more accessible to people back home is an honour.
“This year is the International Year of Indigenous Languages, so we decided to do the broadcasting in Bislama,” she said. “It’s the first time we’ve done commentary for the World Cup, but we think we're nailing it.”
Judging by the reception they’ve received across the region – with their calls being broadcast on radio to Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu, Niue and New Zealand – the trio have already started inspiring the next generation of female footballers and sports broadcasters.
In a part of the world that has traditionally seen people gravitate towards other sports, Football Ferns coach Tom Sermanni says their work is crucial in continuing to grow football around the world.
“It’s fantastic. We come to these tournaments representing not only New Zealand, but Oceania as well, and what we hope we can do is continue to encourage and to be a leader for the other islands to embrace football and women’s football.
“There’s a foundation for the sport to do really well and it’s important for all of us in Oceania to continue to grow the sport as best we can.”