Samoa – 27 April 2010
Talofa from Samoa!
The first stop in the South Pacific region for the Why Sport Matters journey was Samoa, a small Polynesian island nation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (more or less half-way between Hawaii and New Zealand). In this tropical paradise, they do things the Samoan Way, or Fa’a Samoa, and this is reflected in their sport culture. With a total population of less than 200,000, Samoans have a great passion and a proven ability in a wide variety of sport.
The national sport in Samoa is clearly rugby — and you cannot be in this country without seeing the effects of it, as they have remarkable international success for such a small country. At this time, Samoa is currently the #1 ranked team in the world for Rugby Sevens, having won the previous three tournaments in the Sevens World Series Circuit. Interest in the sport is sure to keep growing thanks to the IOC’s decision to add it as an Olympic sport, and it will get its big debut in the Rio 2016 Games.
Rugby’s influence comes from the earlier days of British and New Zealand rule, both countries passionate about their rugby (Samoa began independent rule in 1962). As Samoa found success on the international stage, it now seems every Samoan youth dreams of playing for the Manu Samoa – the national team of rugby. While rugby is technically amateur status in the country, many of the players go abroad to play club rugby in places like New Zealand, Australia and Europe. In addition, rugby is also the passion sport in neighboring island nations, especially Fiji and Tonga, which creates a healthy rivalry amongst the islands for rugby supremacy. Samoa is eager to participate in the 2011 Rugby World Cup to be held in New Zealand – don’t miss the Samoan war chant, the Siva Tau, delivered before their home matches.
With so many athletes (even in other sports) making their living outside the country, this reflects an interesting aspect of Samoan society. As there are more Samoans living outside the country than actually in it, a large flow of economic resources are sent back to the home country. In fact, this system “remittance” is one of Samoa’s top revenue generators. In Samoa, daily society is ruled by the individual villages and extended families that populate the island, and it is the Samoan way that the village takes care of its own. Therefore, athletes who find success abroad play a key role in Samoan society, both economically and symbolically — a true example of how sport can impact a culture.
With a year-round tropical climate, Samoa is the ideal place to practice sport. It is also a country that is essentially self-reliant. While most Samoans live a simple existence, the village culture allows for small groups of extended families to provide all the needs of its village. As all members contribute to the healthy existence of the village, it typically requires physical work and labor, and as a result, Samoans tend to be naturally strong and adept. As explained to Why Sport Matters, Samoans have a natural ability in sports like boxing, weightlifting, rugby, throwing events, and both men and women are quite developed and strong.
Sport in Samoa is important even to the highest level. Why Sport Matters was able to speak with the Prime Minister of the country (see photo), who also serves as Chairman of the country’s Rugby Board. He reminded us how Samoan sport teams and athletes were the best ambassadors for the country and source of recognition and awareness for the small country. The Samoan government invested into sport facilities in order to host the 2007 South Pacific Games, and now are in a position to be a premiere sports destination for a wide variety of different sports and events for the future. This had led to the next big event for Samoa, the hosting of the Youth Commonwealth Games in 2015.
The Samoan Olympic Committee has the role of managing the Olympic Sports in the country. While only able to bring small delegations to the Olympic Games, there are strong initiatives to develop elite athletes. Female weightlifter Ele Opeloge is currently the best hope for a medal at London 2012 Games and is an icon in the country (Samoa has never won an Olympic medal). Often it is the smaller and regional games that take more focus. Thanks to the 2007 South Pacific Games, Samoa now has a multiple sporting complexes to develop and prepare athletes (see photo of National Aquatics Centre).
Samoa has a close cousin in neighboring American Samoa, which is a territory of the USA and an interesting contrast from a sporting perspective. While Samoa relates culturally to New Zealand and Australia (and therefore rugby), American Samoa is influenced by US sports, and regularly exports their star athletes to pro leagues in American football and baseball. In the meantime, both countries continue to need a regular source of funding and quality coaching in order to stay competitive.
A special appreciation from Why Sport Matters goes out to Niko and Tapasu and all our friends at the Samoan Olympic Committee, Matthew at the Rugby High Performance Centre, Peter of the Rugby Football Union, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, and everyone at the Sinalei resort.
Why Sport Matters continues next to explore Oceania with visits to New Zealand and Australia. See the TRAVEL SCHEDULE for more info, and don’t forget to check out our dedicated pages on:
Why Sport Matters also notes the recent passing of Juan Antonio Samaranch, former IOC President for over 20 years.