Monday 09 October 2023, 13:00

New Zealand bridging the gender gap through women in leadership

  • Knock-on effect of Football Ferns’ historic World Cup campaign already being felt

  • Ambitious initiatives to get more women involved in the game at all levels

  • Programmes ‘Legacy Starts Now’ and ’Train the Trainer’ target growth from grassroots to senior level

The magical, opening night of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ where Auckland’s Eden Park - a hallowed ground synonymous for All Blacks’ matches - saw 42,137 fans watch New Zealand make history and help weave the magic of football into a rugby-mad nation. Prior to the Football Ferns historic 1-0 win, few of New Zealand’s 5.1 million population knew of the country’s ambitious legacy plan already three years in the making: capitalise on the biggest ever women’s sporting event to grow the game and its opportunities across the country. The winning World Cup bid back in 2020 sparked the inception of New Zealand’s Legacy Starts Now strategy. On top of national participation and inclusion programmes, a key pillar of the campaign has been increasing the number of women in leadership and decision-making roles. Since then, 79 women have graduated from the country’s flagship leadership programme. “The program looks at how to close the ‘confidence gap’ and challenge the biases that might be holding women back from pursuing a leadership role in football,” says New Zealand Football’s Women’s Development Manager Annalie Longo. “It’s designed to create a community of women who want to increase their impact, but also arm them with the tools to deliver leadership workshops within their community and region,”

It’s an investment that’s paying dividends with four New Zealander’s already selected for FIFA’s Women in Football Leadership programme. The programme is run annually in Zurich with just 24 females hand-picked worldwide to participate. Helen Mallon was one of them. She’s the Chair of Capital Football and the first woman on NZ’s Football Appointments Panel. Helen was also the first to grow her region’s female engagement to more than 40 per cent. She says the FIFA leadership course gave her belief in herself and the realisation she “wasn’t on her own”. “It was a game changer. It reduced a lot of fear around not being good enough to hold a figurehead position within a male dominated sport.” The Wellington-based administrator is passionate about sharing those insights to encourage women to develop as coaches, administrators, referees and leaders. “We’re hosting programmes to provide females with the right opportunities. The key is to do that in a safe and trusted environment.” Her take on legacy post World Cup is simple. “It’s about inclusivity and opportunities for all. Ensuring that no matter where you are or your situation in life, there is something for you within the game.”

Capital Football Chair Helen Mallon

Fellow FIFA graduate and football leader Laura Menzies echoes that statement. She’s become the Chief Executive of Northern Region Football, the largest regional sports organisation in the country. “In New Zealand, there’s only one professional [football] men's and women's team. There isn't the opportunity to watch local football on the TV and this tournament has changed that. Football of the highest standard is on every day. You can go see a game in a packed stadium. “People who know nothing about football have been talking about the win against Norway in the opening game of the World Cup. It was an unforgettable occasion and demonstrated the true power of the game.” She’s thrilled women’s sport is “finally getting the recognition, investment and attention it deserves” not just globally, but locally.

UEFA-FIFA Women in Football Leadership - Laura Menzies of New Zealand

New Zealand Football’s Train the Trainer initiative is contributing to that, where leaders learn to deliver leadership programmes to their communities to maximise impact. “This World Cup will undoubtedly improve the landscape for girls and women in leadership roles,” says Laura. The aim is for the legacy impact of co-hosting the 2023 World Cup to spread the length and breadth of New Zealand.