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Indigenous communities are embraced at the Women’s World Cup, but will the legacy live on?

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — More than any previous tournament, the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand has leaned into both including and showcasing the Indigenous cultures of both nations.

For some Indigenous groups, though, there’s not enough commitment to a more lasting legacy.

This Women’s World Cup was the first hosted by two countries. FIFA, led by a panel of six Indigenous women, worked with both countries to make sure the Australia’s First Nations and New Zealand’s Maori cultures were included.

For the first time at a World Cup, all of the nine host cities were referred to in both English and Indigenous terms in the FIFA materials surrounding the event, including website content, signage and broadcasts.

Soccer organizers in Australia and New Zealand successfully pushed to have Indigenous flags flying at stadiums. In New Zealand a traditional karanga call was performed ahead of each match, while in Australia the pre-game ceremonies included a welcome to country by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander elders.

FIFA executives had cultural awareness training in the run-up to the World Cup and the players attended traditional ceremonies when they arrived. The United States was among eight teams that participated in Auckland.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a cultural welcome like that in any of the places we’ve had a World Cup before,” American defender Kelley O’Hara said. “I know how special it is for the New Zealand players, for the Australian players, for the people of New Zealand and Australia. I’m really good friends with (Ferns defender) Ali Riley, she has so much pride in the fact that this tournament is being played in New Zealand.”

Spain’s team caused a stir before the tournament when they mocked the haka in a video posted to social media. Captain Ivana Andres later apologized to elders and members of the Rangitane O Manawatu iwi (tribe) at a ceremony in the North Island city of Palmerston North, where the team was based during the group stage.

“Their words came from the heart and there was an acknowledgement that they understood that the haka is very precious, not only to Maori but to all of Aotearoa,” Iwi representative Professor Meihana Durie said.

In New Zealand there has been an increasing effort overall to honor the culture. It is common to refer to the country as Aotearoa, which means “land of the long white cloud.” The greeting Kia Ora is a common greeting at restaurants and shops.

FIFA’s head of women’s soccer, Sarai Bareman, is of Dutch and Samoan descent and was raised in New Zealand.

“I can’t even remember the number of conversations that I’ve had until today with people who have come from overseas, who have commented about how special it is to have a `Welcome to Country’ in First Nations and in Maori when the teams are coming onto the field,” Bareman said. “People think that is so special, and it is, and it’s so unique. And how amazing that these two beautiful cultures are being shown, literally, to the entire globe.”

While the inclusion during the tournament has been lauded, First Nations groups have questioned Australia’s Legacy 23 plan that seeks to grow women’s soccer in Australia beyond the World Cup.

Indigenous Football Australia’s council sent a letter to FIFA last month decrying the lack of commitment to Indigenous-led soccer organizations going forward.

“Despite ubiquitous Indigenous culture, symbolism, traditional ceremonies and installations at the World Cup and the holding out of Indigenous culture as something of central value to football, not a single dollar from the legacy program has been committed to organizations that are Indigenous-led,” the letter said. “Without support for the Indigenous community and their programs, we consider this symbolism empty.”

The foundation set up by John Moriarty, the first Indigenous player for Australia’s national team, launched a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign to support the work it is doing through soccer with First Nations children in remote communities.

Football Australia said support and advancement of Indigenous football programs were integral parts of the sport’s national commitment, supported by its National Indigenous Advisory Group.

But IFA council member Ros Moriarty said the response to the letter “doesn’t address our concerns with what we see as contraventions of FIFA’s own human rights statutes for self determination for indigenous peoples.”

“It’s the Indigenous-led grassroots football programming and movement that we’re part of that we’re looking to see recognition of,” she said. “But, as importantly, we’re looking to understand how part of the legacy fund is going to be directed to programs such as ours that have been delivering for a long time, and carrying the heavy weight of football in Australia for Indigenous people.”

Veteran goalkeeper Lydia Williams and playmaker Kyah Simons are Indigenous players on the Matildas’ World Cup roster. Ros Moriarty said the relative lack of young Indigenous players coming into the top national soccer teams was evidence the “pipeline” and engagement needed more attention.

“It seems to us, that a World Cup on our shores that ignores the movement that Australia has experienced toward acknowledging and recognizing Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander self-determination … without a (specific) allocation from this legacy fund, is tone deaf,” she said.

New Zealand’s program is Aotearoa United: Legacy Starts Now. The soccer federation also partnered with Maori Football Aotearoa and Sport New Zealand to develop a school program aimed at increasing participation in sports for young girls from different backgrounds, including Indigenous communities.

“The Sport continues to grow, as you see it’s the most participated sport in the country. We are aided by the growth of futsal, which just can’t stop growing as well,” said Andrew Pragnell, CEO of New Zealand Football. “We’ve got to make sure we continue to make sure our environments are well connected and that they’re supporting as many young people to join the sport from all walks of life as possible.”


AP Sports Writers John Pye in Brisbane, Australia and Steve McMorran in Wellington, New Zealand contributed to this report.


More AP coverage of the Women’s World Cup: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup

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