SAN ANTONIO — After failing to find sports for her young daughters to play in Samoa, Philippa Te Hira-Matatia founded a sports league to fill the void.

  • Working to expand girls’ sports in Samoa
  • Part of 5-week intensive course created by State Dept.
  • Now working with the Spurs for a few weeks

Now, she’s part of an elite group of women from across the world who are working to increase gender diversity in sports.

“Being here is, for myself, a life changing experience that I will never forget,” Te Hira-Matatia said.

Te Hira-Matatia is a delegate of the Global Sports Mentoring Program, a five-week intensive class created by the U.S. State Department. Delegates are selected by U.S. embassies across the globe to work on either gender equality or access to sports for people with disabilities.

“Sports really is disruptive. It’s about increasing visibility and creating role models for young women to look up to and aspire to,” Te Hira-Matatia said.

The founder of the Samoa Institute of Sports is now in San Antonio, as a mentee of Spurs Sports and Entertainment. She is dedicated to expanding access to sports for girls and other kids across the country.

“I guess for me it was about creating opportunities for my daughters to reach their full potential,” she said.

The members of Empower Women Through Sports group spent two weeks in Washington D.C., and then were assigned to a different organization for the remaining three weeks.  

“One of the things I came here to learn about was how to build a strong brand and team culture, which I think the Spurs have done time and time again,” Te Hira-Matatia said.

She’s specifically studying women in leadership roles within Spurs Sports and Entertainment.

“The female leaders that I’ve met with the Spurs have a lot of tenacity but they always do it with a lot of grace,” she said.

Te Hira-Matatia grew up in New Zealand, where she represented the country in netball and basketball. She moved to Samoa five years ago and has played on the Samoan touch rugby team.

She said the biggest cultural factors preventing more girls from participating in sports in Samoa are a serious focus on education and traditional gender roles, leaving them with little free time. 

“They have expectations that they have roles aside from school,” she said. “So, the average day looks like you’re at school and then you go to church or you come home and you’re doing things for your household.”