Wednesday 28 June 2023, 14:00

Kiwi trio hail women’s football growth as Trophy visits Hamilton / Kirikiriroa

In the spirit of “Going Beyond”, Hamilton / Kirikiriroa recently held a FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ Trophy Tour event with a stellar line up at the K’aute Pasifika Fale, to empower future generations in sport. Past and present female sporting personalities on the panel included New Zealand defender Michaela Foster, ex-Football Fern Joy Howland and FIFA Referee Sarah Jones. MC and Olympian Sarah Cowley-Ross led the discussion with the panel on how far women’s sport has come, in the lead-up to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™. The theme of the evening was “The changing dynamics of gender in sport”.

New Zealand international Michaela Foster at a FIFA Women's World Cup Trophy Tour event, Hamilton

Hamilton / Kirikiriroa will host five matches during the tournament, commencing on 22 July and including outings for former world champions Japan and Norway, plus traditional heavyweights Sweden. The evening saw the unveiling of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Original Trophy, which was on its last leg of the Waikato and Bay of Plenty Trophy Tour. The aim of the Tour is to inspire young females and create excitement ahead of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023. The audience comprised of many young female footballers including local team, The Wanderers, who came to support and learn from some footballing idols. The opening address was by Jane Patterson, COO New Zealand of FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 and Jess Savage, student and prefect at Cambridge High School and captain of the girl’s Football team. “Football stuck with me when I started at the age of seven,” said Foster, whose father Ian is a coach for the All Blacks. “Our parents always encouraged us to create our path, and playing football with my sister became the highlight of my childhood years. I am a proud daughter, and he’s a proud dad. “Navigating the sporting world after high school is critical for young players. It is crucial that we have inlets into sporting communities along with pathways to pursue career opportunities for young girls. In addition to this, watching women in both sports as well as leadership roles in the sports fraternity will be a boost for young girls.”

New Zealand international referee Sarah Jones at a FIFA Women's World Cup Trophy Tour event, Hamilton

FIFA referee Jones highlighted the need to break barriers for women to continue sports after school, university, or even after getting married and having children. “We need to tell women that it is possible to follow your passion even with a family and a career. If you love doing it, you can always go for it,” she said. “The fitness levels are higher for players as well as the referees. With various learning modules, and training sessions before the games begin and even during the World Cup, the referees are also required to exhibit skill and aptitude along with fitness. “A speed test, agility test, strength test, core and flexibility training and several criteria, it is a mix of hard work, learning and continuous commitment to one’s passion that come into play as a referee. But, I would not have it any other way. It is a commitment I have made to my passion.”

FIFA Women's World Cup Trophy Tour event, Hamilton

Ex-Football Fern Howland, who was sporting one of her former team jerseys, reminisced how times have changed and the game of football itself has changed drastically. “It is such a great feeling to see more girls and all-girls teams when I go to my son’s football games on Saturday mornings.” She also recalled her days on the New Zealand team. “It was just a bunch of mates playing for the country," she said. "We never had the structure or institutional support that is now available. It was all about the love for the game. “We were fundraising on the weekends, requesting people to buy our tickets, door knocking and trying everything we could. It was a constant cycle of ‘play, train and fundraise’ for us.” Her message for the parents was received with applause from the audience when she said: “Focus on presence not pressure. Be available, show up for games on the side lines and support your girls in their journey. It would be great to see New Zealand go to the next level with higher participation and more visibility.”