“Three Ferns on the shirt
Jules Rimet still gleaming
Thirty years of hurt
Never stopped me dreaming.”
There’s a Kiwiana riff on Three Lions, the England football anthem by David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and The Lightning Seeds.
Well, all right, so there is only one fern on the shirt of the New Zealand’s women’s football team and the original women’s Fifa Football World Cup trophy strangely doesn’t have a name. But you get the point. This is a time of great hope and excitement for women’s football in New Zealand.
* Move over, men: Eden Park hosting matches for three women’s World Cups in three years
* Fifa Women’s World Cup 2023 a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Football Ferns
* Covid-19 scare to World Cup cheer: Football Fern Ali Riley’s roller-coaster week
And we should all enjoy that. We should all celebrate. Don’t worry, be happy, because the one thing that we know about these big tournaments is that they tend to make the host nation happier. The buzz is infectious. There’s a ‘joie de vivre’ as the French fans found out when the 2019 Women’s World Cup was held in their country.
But that, ladies and gentlemen, is likely to be the only benefit that New Zealand will get out of the tournament. We hear from NZ Football chief executive Andrew Pragnell; “The economic impact’s really big – around the $180 million vicinity.”
And everyone else is pushing the same myth. Grant Robertson, the minister of finance, is justifying the $25 million of government investment through potential returns and publicity for the country. Shane Harmon, the chief executive of Wellington’s Sky Stadium, says, “I believe it will rival any event that New Zealand has ever held.”
It’s a beautiful story, but it’s a fantasy. Do you not think that if the Women’s World Cup was really so economically valuable that countries would be queueing up to host it? Instead it came down to a two-horse race between us and Colombia. Not exactly the Kentucky Derby. That tells you all you really need to know about the tournament’s true worth.
Pat Garofolo, writing for Bloomberg, said that the economic effect of hosting a (men’s) World Cup is “as nonexistent as a foul on Neymar before one of his famous dives.” Garofolo pointed out that cities like Chicago, Minneapolis and Vancouver refused to host matches for their countries’ 2026 men’s World Cup bid because of financial concerns.
The host cities of the 1994 World Cup in America, the best attended in history, suffered massive cumulative losses running into billions of dollars. A study into the 2006 World Cup in Germany showed similar economic trauma. Garofolo concluded; “On everything from jobs to tourism, the effects of hosting were negligible, at best. There’s little reason to think the Women’s World Cup will be any different.”
So little old New Zealand, as several of our commentators keep tiresomely labelling us, won’t be getting rich any time soon. But there is another reason for concern. By every sporting measure New Zealand simply does not deserve to be hosting this World Cup. In many ways its award is another shameful Fifa malfeasance.
Look at the evidence against New Zealand. At the start of the millennium Charlie Dempsey, New Zealand’s Fifa representative, was accused of corruption in helping Germany win the World Cup ahead of South Africa. Since then New Zealand Football has been a laughing stock. How mayor Andy Foster can say “Wellington has a proud football tradition” is quite beyond me.
The Olywhites were kicked out of the Olympics for fielding an ineligible player. Then Andy Martin, the former chief exceutive of NZ Football, described the World Cup qualifier against Peru as “like a war” and exhorted fans to behave badly towards our visitors.
This was followed by the dismissal of Tony Readings, the former Football Ferns coach, for suggesting progressive changes in a review. Andreas Heraf came in as the head of women’s football, appointed himself coach and then wrote his own reviews. Eventually 12 players refused to play for Heraf. Martin resigned followed by Deryck Shaw, the NZF president.
The review into the scandal by lawyer Phillipa Muir found that Heraf had “breached (the) Human Resources policy on harassment and WorkSafe New Zealand’s bullying guidelines”.
Paul Ifill, perhaps the finest player to have represented the Phoenix and now a successful coach of women’s football in the Wairarapa, was aghast at the time. He cited a failure to do due diligence into Heraf and corporate “stupidity”.
Ifill now believes this Women’s World Cup can be a wonderful incentive for some of New Zealand’s best young players, but there is an awful lot to do in a very short space of time. Ifill says; “I’ve been here 11 years. Most of the time women’s football is an afterthought.
“Everything is geared to the men’s game. There are things done for the women’s game just to stop them complaining. A lot of the men I speak to look down on women’s football generally, although they’d never be brave enough to say so publicly.”
These attitudes have left women’s football chronically underfunded. Abby Erceg, New Zealand’s second most capped player, retired internationally because she was not paid an allowance due to a funding cut. The country is about to spend millions of dollars on a World Cup but cannot afford a national women’s league because of a lack of money.
So where are the pathways? How is New Zealand going to win its first game at a Women’s World Cup without some meaningful support? And don’t tell me the World Cup will grow the game. This is another myth with no supporting evidence internationally. Even in New Zealand both rugby numbers and cricket participation has continued to drop since the country hosted the respective World Cups.
The landscape of New Zealand women’s football is so dire that Maya Hahn, one of the stars of the heroic under-17 team, has shifted her allegiances to Germany. She said; “Going into camp, it wasn’t like it was fun being there. I love football so much but when I go into that environment I don’t really love football that much … I felt when I was in Germany, despite being with a completely new group of people and the different language I was having fun playing football and enjoying it, which is important.”
You bet it’s important. It’s everything. Recently another young player opted out of the Future Ferns Domestic Programme and came back to the Ole Football Academy in Porirua. No wonder Ifill asks if there is a pathway and wonders why players are looking to do other things.
Time and time again New Zealand Football has failed a women’s game that is propped up by dads coaching up and down the country. Yes, there are women’s coaches, but nothing like enough. And now Fifa has granted New Zealand the World Cup. It’s shameful really.
Oh well, we might as well be happy about it, because it is very doubtful that there will be many other benefits.
But joy and happiness can go a long, long way. And if you are listening New Zealand Football, so can fun.