More than just a game

We all know how Football can help make life-long friends, bridge gaps in society, and even halt a world war. Now the team at Māori Football Aotearoa are using the beautiful game to connect Māori communities and gather whanau, hapu and iwi together.

In a recent partnership between the Māori Football Aotearoa, the New Zealand Football Foundation, and New Zealand Football, 160 Māori players, coaches and managers were able to be part of the realisation of Phillip Pickering-Parker and his team’s dream.

“Having 160 Māori from around the country come together in a celebration of our cultural practises (tikanaga), genealogy (whakapapa) and the game we love was very uplifting, and something we are all very proud of,” said Pickering-Parker.

“Launching the first North vs South Football Festival in Rotorua is something we could only dream about a few years ago, but thanks to the support from New Zealand Football Foundation we were able give Māori an experience like no other.”

The North vs South initiative is set up for both male and female players in both senior or youth age groups and was open to any player across the country, of all abilities from grassroots to national league level to trial.

“The feedback from some of the players, including those playing in the National League, told me that even though they have walked out as National Champions and, in some cases, even onto the international stage, they hadn’t experienced anything like walking out on to that pitch in Rotorua as a Māori.”

The impact from the North vs South initiative across the country has also illuminated some of the other ideas Māori Football Aotearoa had on their wish list, which can now come alive.

“We have now been able to activate other parts of our engagement matrix that we believe will suit Māori, draw them towards the game and help reconnect them with their genealogy (whakapapa).”

This was evident straight after the event as Māori Football Aotearoa had an additional 50 registrations from new players on top of the 124 players from the inaugural showcase.

“We have an obligation to football in New Zealand to be very targeted on who we are trying to attract to the game, and the group of players we are trying to grow,” said Parker-Pickering.

To ensure the authenticity of the participants involved, Māori Football Aotearoa have an authentication process, which includes the player updating their ethnicity profile with New Zealand Football as Māori, attend Māori cultural competency workshops and registration with their Iwi to ensure connection with their people.

“Throughout the week, we were able to help the players, coaches and managers embrace their heritage and explore their culture. It was very special helping these players go through an awakening and to have it alive and thriving on the day the players walked out onto Rotorua International Stadium, was an experience we hope to provide to more Māori in the future.”

Currently 3.9% of New Zealand Football’s membership are categorised as Māori and Māori Football Aotearoa are targeting an increase in players who identify as Māori throughout New Zealand. Initiatives like the Trans-Tasman Clash of the Cultures and the North vs South tournament are helping them track towards their goal of 5%.

To find out more about Māori Football Aotearoa or the North vs South tournament please visit māorifootball.co.nz