Eneliko standing up for women in the Pacific

Former Samoa sevens player Filoi Eneliko discusses the reasons behind her decision to participate in the inaugural Women's Sport Leadership Academy for High Performance Coaches.

Each of the participants in the inaugural Women’s Sport Leadership Academy for High Performance Coaches (WSLA HPC) has their own reason for pushing themselves forward.

For many the lure was career progression and the opportunity to learn alongside some of the brightest female coaches in rugby, cycling, rowing, tennis, triathlon and wrestling.

That was certainly a factor in Filoi Eneliko’s decision to apply but there is another, arguably more altruistic, motive – the Samoan wants to provide a voice for women in the Pacific who might not believe that rugby is open to them.

“I believe in myself that I can take up the challenge,” Eneliko told World Rugby. “But also I just wanted to stand up and speak up as a female coach in a male-dominant sport, not only in my country but also throughout the Pacific. 

“If boys and men can do it, girls and women also can. So, yes, that’s why I want to help my country in delivering achievable pathways in future for the young generations of Samoa. 

“And I want to gain more knowledge about coaching at a high level of rugby.”

Eneliko, who works for the Samoa Rugby Union as a Get Into Rugby (GIR) coordinator, believes that it is still “the culture and also the mindset here that rugby is for boys not girls”.

The former Samoa sevens captain and 15s international has experienced those attitudes first hand. Eneliko first encountered rugby aged eight, when she started watching the game with her father, uncles and cousins.

She was first called up to a Manusina training squad in 2000, while still at school, although she had to wait seven years to win her first cap. Eneliko went on to represent her country with pride between 2007-15, when she hung up her playing boots following the Hong Kong women’s sevens invitational event.

Leading by example

Eneliko is also Samoa’s most-capped women’s touch player but her achievements on the pitch counted for little with her male peers during her time as First XV head coach at St Joseph’s College.

In 2014, while still playing international rugby, Eneliko became the first woman to coach a boys’ team to the Samoa Schools National Rugby Championship title. 

But at the final whistle the head coach of the runners-up refused to shake her hand and instead sought out her male assistants.

“A big challenge for me at that time were the male coaches looking at me as the only female coach there,” Eneliko explained. 

“After winning that championship, the thing is no one from the other team wanted to come and shake my hand. For me, that day, I was thinking, that’s all right, that’s them but no one wants to come and shake my hand. 

“They only went and shook my assistant and manager’s hand but no one wants to come and shake my hand. Maybe they don’t believe that I’m the coach, they don’t believe that a female can coach and win that tournament over them.”

For Eneliko, the incident did not impact on how she celebrated her achievement but it is an anecdote that perfectly encapsulates the attitudes she is working to change.

“The only sad thing about it is I am the one who is keeping up the values of the game and trying to lead by example with players,” she added. 

“But some of the coaches don’t lead by example, they need to lead by example to their players.”

Potential for women's rugby

In her GIR role Eneliko travels around Samoa educating future coaches as she attempts to promote rugby as a viable option for girls in primary and secondary school. 

She also coaches a touch team which acts as a feeder for the women’s sevens team that she manages. In all three instances, Eneliko says she has already implemented methods and lessons learned through the WSLA HPC.

But it is not only players that she wants to reach out to. Eneliko believes that rugby offers as many opportunities for women off the field as it does on it.

“There’s lots of potential in women’s rugby here, we have the talent but we need more time to focus on developing, not only the players but we are trying to get more girls involved in the game in all different areas,” she said.

“Like coaches, referees, administrators, physiotherapists, players and all those other kind of interests. 

“And there is a pathway now for women’s rugby in Samoa, starting from our Get Into Rugby programme for [the] primary school, secondary school level and we are trying to get more secondary schools to form girls’ teams because they normally only have boys’ teams. 

“So, with our Get Into Rugby programme we are focusing on promoting and getting more girls’ teams at secondary school level to participate in rugby, which will increase more women to feed our club level and then enough numbers to select our national teams.”

Olympic ambition

Eneliko travelled to Europe as an assistant coach when Samoa’s women made their third, and most recent, Rugby World Cup appearance in France in 2014.

Manusina are yet to qualify for a Rugby World Cup Sevens and were beaten to the Oceania regional place at the Olympics Games in Rio four years ago by Fiji.

Samoa will contest the Olympic Games repechage tournament and Eneliko is confident that her countrywomen can book their ticket for Tokyo 2020.

“My hope for Samoa is to qualify for the next Olympics and also to be the number one in Oceania,” she said.

Beyond that Eneliko believes that more competitions are needed in the Pacific, to help players get used to the rigours of international rugby.

“I want to get more and more competitions for women to participate in so that when the Olympics and all those bigger tournaments come [around] we have more game time and we have enough depth to select teams to participate,” she said. 

“Because at the moment all we have for sevens is just one tournament a year, that’s the Oceania [Rugby Women’s Sevens Championship], that’s it – and then the Pacific Games every four years.

“Fijiana going to Australia and playing their 15s warm-up games for the World Cup, that’s a really good initiative and I want to get more initiatives like that around the Pacific. 

“Small tournaments, let the girls travel around just to make them used to travelling. Because that’s the other way it affects the performance of some players because that’s their first time on an aeroplane, their first time travelling away from home.

“We need to travel around the Pacific maybe twice a year or three times a year to make them feel confident that when the big calling’s coming, they’re all ready.”

Ireland's Joy Neville
Women's Rugby World Cup News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Watch LIVE rugby TODAY … Ireland v USA, RWC 2010
Ireland and the USA served up a pool-stage classic at Rugby World Cup 2010 — and you can relive all the action this Sunday.
041120 - Seven CONSUR - 020 - Brasil
Women's Sevens News Women in Rugby
Brazilian pioneers continue to open new roads as referees
Former Brazilian internationals Natasha Olsen and Cristiana Futuro Mühlbauer have risen in the refereeing ranks both in their country and the region.
Joy Neville - Rugby World Cup 2017
Women's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Between the Lines: Joy Neville
World Rugby Referee Award 2017 recipient Joy Neville joins Sean Maloney on the latest episode of the Between the Lines podcast and discusses the match officials she looks up to.
World Rugby logo - one to use for generic releases
Media release Junior Women's Men's News Women in Rugby mz-advisory
World Rugby creates access to optional domestic law trials to further reduce COVID-19 risk
The World Rugby Executive Committee has approved 10 optional law trials which are designed to provide national member unions with COVID-19 transmission risk reduction options if required.
Alhambra Nievas - Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens 2017 - Women's
Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Nievas: World Rugby committed to supporting female referees
World Rugby’s Referee Development Manager, Alhambra Nievas is confident that progress made in the support of female match officials can be maintained amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
2020 HSBC Sevens
Women's Sevens News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Watch LIVE rugby TODAY … Doubleheader at the HSBC New Zealand Sevens 2020
Fans were treated to some brilliant action as Canada, France, Australia and the USA contested two matches that had a huge bearing on the outcome of the women's tournament in Hamilton.
Sarah Abdul Baki
Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Five women in the middle
At the beginning of a referee-themed week, we look at five women who are helping to blaze a trail for female match officials.
5th Place Play-off: USA v Canada
Women's Rugby World Cup News Tournament News Women in Rugby
USA trust in basics to beat Canada at RWC 2010
World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Phaidra Knight remembers the Rugby World Cup 2010 fifth-place play-off, in which the USA edged old rivals Canada at Surrey Sports Park.
Pool C: Canada v Sweden
Olympics Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Between the Lines: Heather Moyse
World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Heather Moyse opens up about her double life as an international rugby player and Olympic bobsledder on a special episode of the Between the Lines podcast.
World Rugby Council Meeting
Women's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Palmer leads by example in New Zealand
World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Farah Palmer discusses her career in the game, life in the boardroom and her hopes for Rugby World Cup 2021.