Lifetime achievement awards are handed out on a regular basis in many fields, from film to academic, journalism to activism, and of course sports, to name a few.
Sandra Fruean, after being involved with the sport of soccer in American Samoa a year short of 30 years, is still in a state of euphoria after receiving an equivalent of a lifetime achievement award by gaining a seat on the newly formed, FIFA Council.
“This is a great achievement for our association, to have one of our members, especially our vice-president Sandra Fruean, sit on FIFA’s highest committee, the FIFA Council,” said FFAS President Faiivae Iuli Alex Godinet. “FFAS, the executive committee and I congratulate her on winning the nomination, and expect great things from her.”
All six FIFA confederations were tasked with electing a minimum of one female member to the newly formed Council, and with only two women candidates to choose from, the Oceania Football Confederation elected Fruean.
She joins OFC President David Chung and Cook Islands President Lee Harmon as the three Oceania representatives on the FIFA Council.
“Up until now, it’s a feeling that I cannot even believe,” Fruean said, “it’s amazing because this is a position usually given only to presidents of Confederations, and associations.”
Fruean was very thankful to FFAS President Faiivae Iuli Alex Godinet for nominating her.
“It’s a feeling of joy and thankful to our president for this opportunity that he gave me because it was a nomination he could have used for himself,” she explained. “But our president gave it up, and asked the OFC president that he will nominate me for the OFC’s female position on the FIFA Council.
“It is unbelievable that he would give up a position for himself and give it to me!” Fruean exclaimed. Even after a week since being elected, she said she still cannot believe the honor she has achieved.
There were only two candidates for the female spot, Fruean and Suzanne Griffin of New Zealand.
“I never thought I’d make it because the woman I was going up against, by the time I read her profile, I said she’s got great credentials,” Fruean recalled. “But I just relied on the Lord and was very surprised with the result of the vote.”
“FFAS is one of very few associations with more than one female on the executive, and also one of the few with women in roles as leaders such as a vice-president,” Faiivae explained. “Sandra has been our vice president for eight years now, has been on FIFA’s Women’s U-17 & U-20 World Cup Organization, and we are proud to have her on the Council as well. She is in a position to help the women’s game grow bigger in American Samoa.”
In 1987, she started on a pathway that would eventually lead to high positions within FFAS as vice-president, twice, and Head of Women’s Soccer Committee. She started playing soccer, for the first time, as a 19-year-old.
“A good friend and I started the soccer club called Renegades back in 1987,” Fruean recalled. “My friend, Rita Champ, and I got together with other women around the same age and started this club.”
She said she was dubbed captain of the squad, and they went on to dominate women’s soccer for a decade.
“We won all the soccer competitions back then, nobody could beat us,” she said. “Then in 1997, we all decided to split and create our own clubs, to make it more competitive. I left, so did Rita, Mina Uhrle, Saili Ott, to name a few, all started our own clubs after that, and it became very competitive.”
In 1997, the future father of her children, Ismael ‘Pana’ Herrera, started a men’s soccer club and called it PanSa, a combination of Panama and Samoa. Herrera was originally from Panama before making American Samoa his new home.
“I started a separate women’s soccer club called PanSa as well, and I became president of the women’s club, and also captain of the team,” she said. The two clubs would later be combined as one, and it was one of the most dominating teams at the time.
Fruean said that they had achieved their goal, strengthening the women’s side of the game as it became very competitive. She would go on to represent American Samoa in 1998 at the Women’s World Cup qualifying competition in New Zealand, and the 2007 South Pacific Games in Samoa.
Two of her children are also former American Samoa national team players, daughter Sandra Ivette Fruean-Sopoaga, and son, Ismael D’Angelo Herrera.
“I’ve been involved for a long time and now adding this, as a member of the FIFA Council, it is such a big honor,” Fruean said. “The women’s game has changed since I first started playing as a 19-year-old. The game is more advanced, it’s very fast and the players are more skillful compared to when I first started.
“One of the main causes of this is that girls are playing at a younger age, and maturing into the sport as they grow older,” she pointed out.
She has a vision that she hopes becomes a reality, to have a team from the Pacific Islands themselves qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“I’m hoping being on this committee, and for the future of our women’s game in the Pacific Islands, I would like to see a women’s team from the Pacific being on the (FIFA) World Cup,” Fruean said. “New Zealand is the one representing us at all the tournaments but I would really like to see a team from the Pacific Islands make the FIFA World Cup.”
She has five children and eight grandchildren, and has them to thank for their support, as well as her parents, Senator Tuaolo and Fiapa’ipa’i Fruean.
“I want to thank my family of course, for all their support and help at all times,” Fruean added. “I think being on the FIFA Council is good for American Samoa, and the women’s game will get better and better in the coming years.”