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The ‘women’s football’ rant

Football Ferns celebrating Hayley Moorwood's goal vs China, June 2012

Football Ferns celebrating Hayley Moorwood’s goal vs China, June 2012

I have been thinking quite a bit lately about women’s football, a topic I have obviously become more and more passionate about the more games I have attended. The more I watch it the more I love it and the more I love it the more angry I get about the way the world works. I can’t help this, it’s in my blood. I have been a political activist for over 15 years and conditioned to not just let it go when I see something that’s not right.

So here are a few things that have been irritating me lately that I need to get off my chest.

First a most basic point. What’s in a name? Quite a lot I would argue. This might be written off as ‘political correctness’ but names are important. What we call things indicates what priority we place on them, and I hate the way I feel the need to use the term ‘women’s football’. It distinguishes it from ‘football’ like it’s a separate game. It’s not a different game. It shouldn’t be called ‘women’s football’. It’s football. Calling it women’s football almost excuses the way it’s not treated the same as ‘football’.

So I’m going to try to stop doing that. Just so you know…

So that’s that. On to the next one.

Reading in the New Zealand Herald that Rebecca Rolls was was unavailable for the Cyprus Cup due to work commitments. When we talk about players being unavailable to play for the All Whites, it’s usually in conjunction with fancy schmancy top English clubs not releasing them. But here we had a player who plays the biggest sport in the world for a team ranked 16 in the world at the time… and she can’t represent her country because her day job gets in the way!

Can you imagine any male footballer anywhere in the world, in a team ranked in the top 50 let alone the top 20, being in this position? Why should that disparity exist? Women are people too, aren’t they? Surely we can all agree that in 2014 the sexes should be given equality of opportunity at the very least, or if we can’t even manage that, find a way to do somewhat better than we are. Anyway, I don’t know if I have an easy solution. It’s just, that story made me sad.

And that brings me onto a slightly more controversial subject also related to money. Getting paid to play club football in New Zealand. I was talking to a club official on a side-line recently about player payments. He was assuring me that his club doesn’t pay any of their women to play, and I believe him. However I know for a fact that despite all the denials, of all sorts of clubs all over New Zealand, many if not most of them do pay male players in some way, shape or form, despite the game being technically ‘amateur’ at club level in this country. I therefore don’t see it as a virtue that women don’t get anything. I see it as discrimination.

If you are going to give men up to $500 to play a game of football, why not the women at your club? Whether or not player payments are good for the game is a totally separate debate. My point is simply this: you can’t pay two employees of a company different money for the same job, simply because one of them happens to have a penis. So why can you get away with it in football? Simply because it’s all happening under the table?

Lastly, I want to say a couple of things about a loaded wee term by the name of ‘positive discrimination’.

Two things got me thinking about this. One is a statement from New Zealand Football in March last year, when they set out the noble goal of “aiming for women’s elite football to be played, officiated, coached, and managed by females by 2021”. The other was listening to Three Kings premier women’s coach Andy Clay on Radio New Zealand’s afternoon ‘panel’ at some point or other last year, I don’t remember when exactly. He was talking about women as coaches and how it shouldn’t matter what gender someone is who is coaching women’s football, as long as they are the best coach available for that team. Anything less is unfair on the dedicated players who deserve the best.

I can appreciate where he was coming from, and obviously the players who are ambitious for their own careers want to be coached by the best available coach whether they are male, female or any other gender. That’s only natural. But here’s the thing. Those same players also want more recognition for their football, more media coverage of their football and, in general, equal treatment with their male counterparts in the game. The two things are related.

How does something become popular? By exposing people to it so they can get a taste for it. I didn’t know I loved women’s football until I saw a game for the first time. To make it more popular and thus more highly valued we have to get more people watching it. You can’t do this by going by the law of the jungle where only the strongest survive. If television ratings alone decided everything that went on TV then it would be all rugby, Shortland Street and Kardashians – wall to wall forever. It’s not, because you have to put something on TV before you know if it will get ratings or not. Putting a minority sport on TV is a form of positive discrimination. It’s not popular now, but with some exposure it might be one day. In the short term, the television company might have to take revenue hit while something new finds its audience.

The same goes for coaches and referees. How can women become good coaches and referees without experience? How can they get experience if all the women’s teams are coached and refereed by men? They get experience and become good by getting an opportunity to work with top sides and learn from their mistakes. It might be detrimental to some player development in the short term but sometimes that’s a hit you’ve got to take.

So that is my rant for this week. Enough of this bald middle class white male with all the privilege in the world trying to pretend he knows a thing or two about injustice. Now it’s your turn. What do you think?

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

3 replies

  1. School sports are where it starts. Check out the sports notices as cooed schools- rugby and girl’s rugby. Check out the difference in support given to male and female sports in schools. The sports associations set the differences pretty early on in how they structure the competition, what training is given to the coaches.

  2. Interesting……In the 1970s 80s &90s NZ Women’s Football Assn bent over backwards to get top class Male Coaches to involve themselves in Female Football in order to improve standards. Now they have them, currently, in the form of Tony Readings, Aaron McPharland, Andrew Clay, Carl Jorgenson and others, it is ironic that you suggest replacing them.
    I would argue that there are more and more Women footballers taking Coaching qualifications who will come through in the long term; don’t ‘fast track’ them, their ability will come through in the long term.

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