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Australian Defence Force breaking down barriers in Samoan touch rugby

Joseph Guenzler -

Samoa's touch rugby has achieved a milestone by introducing its first female referees and coaches, advancing gender inclusivity in the sport.

This shift was facilitated by the Australian Defence Force Pacific Sports training program that took place from March 18 to 23 in Samoa.

The program featured level one and two accreditations in coaching and refereeing, along with sports trainer, first aid, and strength and conditioning courses.

Fefiloi Renate Kerstin, from Siusega, is among the seven women leading this initiative.

As the President of Meitaki Touch Rugby Club and a dedicated touch football enthusiast, Ms. Kerstin expressed her appreciation for the training's value, noting that she would have liked to bring her entire club along.

"It's been an interesting week. I have learnt a lot about touch, and can't wait to go back and share it with my club," she said.

"I joined touch in 2018 and this has been the first time I have had any theoretical instruction on the game.

"Being able to learn from Australians and have them share their knowledge has been great. We have potential, we have people who can help, but we often lack facilities, funding and knowledge, so having the course delivered free of charge is wonderful."

Ms Kerstin, who joined 35 others from around Samoa for the course, said she was initially approached by a friend who encouraged her to play but didn’t know what touch was. 

"I wasn’t sure what it was and thought, but I’m a girl," she said.

"Being able to learn from Australians and have them share their knowledge has been great.

"We have potential, we have people who can help, but we often lack facilities, funding and knowledge, so having the course delivered free of charge is wonderful."

Samoan students take part in a touch football coaching course run by the ADF sports training program in Samoa. (Image: ADF)

Ms. Kerstin has defied stereotypes to pursue her passion for coaching and refereeing, finding enjoyment in the process.

With seven years of experience, she has become one of Samoa's more seasoned touch rugby players and is now dedicated to imparting her knowledge to others.

"It’s been a lot of fun, the community is fun and it’s a good sport to start off with if you are not strong enough or fit enough for rugby," she said. 

"I have learnt so much from being involved with the sport, including management and leadership, and now my focus isn’t on playing, but teaching and helping others who are new to the sport."

Flying Officer Ethan Phipps, one of the program's trainers, expressed his excitement at being involved in training Samoa's first seven female coaches and referees, describing the experience as "awesome".

"They are really engaged in the delivery, asked some great questions and shared their own experiences which is really valuable," he said.

"They are really excited to share their knowledge and are passionate about growing touch in Samoa."

Flying Officer Phipps said it showed that sport really was for everyone. 

"It sends a powerful message that touch isn’t just a boys sport; anyone at any age or gender can have a go," he said.

When reflecting on his experience working with the Samoan people, Flying Officer Phipps said they are similar to Australians when it comes to their love of sport.

"Their love for learning and sport is what brings us together," he said. 

The initiative is aligned with the Australian Government’s Pacific Step-up program, which seeks to enhance relationships, and sporting capacity in the Pacific region.

In delivering the program, the ADF collaborated with the National Rugby League, Federation International Basketball Association, International Federation of Touch Football, and Sports Medicine Australia.

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