Sport has been a foundational throughline for Belmont assistant professor Dr. Kristi Oshiro.
The Hawaii native played softball for four years as an undergraduate student at East Carolina University, completed her Ph.D. in sport management at Texas A&M University, and today she teaches sport administration in the Mike Curb College of Entertainment & Music Business. This summer, Oshiro had the unique opportunity to follow the Philippines Women’s National Football Team (PWNT) as they competed in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup as part of a faculty research project that exists at the intersection of race, gender, and empowerment in women’s sports.
Who are your colleagues on the project?
The research team includes Dr. Ashlyn Hardie (Clemson University) and Dr. Marlene Dixon (Texas A&M University) and myself. We are all former female student-athletes who study and advocate for women in sport.
Ashlyn is one of my best friends and an incredible scholar in the sport for development space. Marlene is one of the best in the business and someone I’ve considered a mentor for years. This was very much a passion project, so it’s been special to be able to do this work together.
How did you get connected to the Philippines Women’s National Football Team?
We have a friend who is a co-captain on the team. She's been playing with the PWNT since 2018 and when they qualified for the World Cup, I got a call from Ashlyn, and she said, “They just qualified. This is the first time a team from the Philippines– men or women– ever qualified for the World Cup. This is incredible. I think there's a story here. I think we need to get on it and follow their journey" So ever since they qualified back in January 2022, we have been working with a select number of players on the team conducting narrative-based research. They've been replying to prompts, and we've had various check ins between that qualifying time all the way to and through their journey to the World Cup.
What discoveries have you examined in your research?
While this project is still a work in progress, participants seemed to experience increased feelings of empowerment (at the individual level) along with personal growth and a sense of accomplishment in the months leading up to the World Cup. Several participants also noted changes in behavior – such as increased motivations to "pay it forward" and empower others (specifically women and girls in their circles of influence) as a result of this historic run and lived experiences. At the World Cup, we also administered surveys to fans to get insight into what this historic success means for supporters of the PWNT. We look forward to delving into the data to see what emerges from a supporter’s perspective.
In addition, one of the fascinating things is the large representation of heritage players on the team. Of the 23 players on the World Cup squad, 18 were born in the U.S., so there's a Filipino American experience piece that is also a part of this whole narrative.
There's an incredible podcast that came out called “Between Two Worlds” that is written, hosted and produced by Megan Reyes, following the PWNT and their story, specifically focusing on themes of history, identity and belonging through the lens of sport. It launched the week before the World Cup, and I remember flying to New Zealand and listening to all four episodes. We draw inspiration from people like Reyes who have taken the team’s journey and made it publicly accessible, beyond academic spaces.
In our own work, it’s a priority first and foremost to tell this story in a way that honors our participants to the best of our ability. It's a really big project, but it's so inspiring. We, as a research team, feel so grateful and privileged to be able to work with these women, hear their stories, and hopefully, retell it in a way that's true to them and their voice.
What was attending the World Cup like for you?
It was a once in a lifetime experience. I don't know if there will ever be another time where we will be so lucky to have such incredible access, having a friend that plays with the team and the pride and excitement that comes with this, having so much insight into the backstories of the participants. There was a player who just graduated from high school. She hasn't even gone to college yet, and she's on the team. You had other players who were on the verge of retirement, who decided, "Hey, I'm gonna give it one more go." Then they make it to the World Cup.
It was also incredibly emotional. Every match that we attended, there were tears. It was tears of pride and joy in the first match to just see the team out on the pitch for warmups. They are such an inspiration. In the second match, they won. They scored their first goal ever and got their first win ever at a World Cup. When they scored that goal, we were all just crying because we were so excited and happy for them. Then in the last match, when they lost, the Philippines fanbase was so joyful and gracious. I think they were just so appreciative of the opportunity to be there, and they had so much pride in these women, in this country.
How has this experience personally impacted you?
The first thing that comes to mind is how lucky I am that this is something that I get to be a part of. It's an honor to be able to work with these women and cover their story.
It's been massive for me. As a woman playing sports my whole life, you admire and respect what other women do so much. But we also know that a lot of the time, it's us advocating for ourselves and advocating for each other. This World Cup trip and traveling with my best friend to cover this story was very much a girls’ trip. We had a big group of girls; we road-tripped up the coast between matches, being around this kind of community was so empowering.
I'm Japanese American. Some of the research that I do is on Asian Americans in sport, which is hugely under-studied in the sport management literature. So even though I'm not Filipino, I have so much respect and gratitude for our participants and what it means to see these Filipino and some of these Filipino American women represented on this type of stage and platform. While we're conducting research on empowerment and what it means to the people in the Philippines, just being a part of it has been so impactful me personally.
How has Belmont supported you in this research?
The Department of Sport Administration just made the move from the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) to Curb College. I want to give a big shout out and thank you to Bryce Sullivan who was my Dean in CLASS, as well as Brittany Schaffer and Sarita Stewart in Curb. Had it not been for them believing in this work, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to travel there to be a part of this experience.
What made this extra special is I had the pleasure of leading a Maymester study abroad program to New Zealand with a good friend and colleague of mine, Dr. Patrick Morse. We met with local experts, industry professionals and learned a lot about the Māori culture and New Zealand. Being able to travel there in May and get background on the culture, community and all things New Zealand then turn around and go back later in the summer gave me a much greater understanding for not only the experience and the people but also deeper appreciation for the beautiful country co-hosting this mega sporting event. This also would not have been possible had it not been for Belmont.
Belmont’s sport administration program recently transitioned to the Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business as a strategic move that acknowledges the connection between sport and entertainment.
“Sport is part of the broader entertainment ecosystem that includes music, film, television and other creative ventures,” associate professor and chair of the department of sport administration Ted Peetz said. “These industries naturally blend together all the time. This move will allow us the opportunity to share resources and expertise which will provide our students with the best experience possible.”
Six players on the Philippines Women's National Team participated in the research project, beginning in January 2022 when the team qualified for the World Cup through the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup as the players reflected on the culmination of their experiences.