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Enzo’s Rant – A woman’s place


[Eastern Suburbs asked me to contribute a regular match day programme column for the duration of their first season back in the national league football fray. My brief was to be “slightly controversial or provocative”. Half joking, I told them they could call the series ‘Enzo’s Rant’ and to my surprise they agreed! I will publish each one here the week after it has appeared in print. Here’s episode 4.]

Last year, New Zealand Football’s ‘National Competitions Review’ set out a bold vision for the growth of the game in this fair country of ours. However, when it came to recommending a pathway forward, developing the women’s game seemed like a bit of an afterthought. A National Women’s League that is fully equal to the Stirling Sports Premiership is only implied in the report’s ‘preferred outcome’ to be implemented in 2018/19 – provided the entire structure is ‘sustainable’.

What are the realistic prospects of that threshold being met? Not great, given sustainability is something the report itself takes pains to concede New Zealand hasn’t seen in the game since 1970.

I shouldn’t have to repeat this all the time but I do it a lot to ram home the message – the Football Ferns are ranked in the world’s top 20 by FIFA, and capable of beating anybody above them on their day. The All Whites are ranked 116 at the time of writing, behind powerhouses of the game such as Turkmenistan, Mauritania, Rwanda and Swaziland.

What possible rationale could there be for not giving the women’s game in New Zealand the same priority as the men’s game, let alone the greater priority that it arguably merits? The only one I can think of is ‘1900 called, and it wants its social order back’.

In 2016/17 (not 1816/17) we have an expanded men’s national league that’s growing in popularity and exposure (which is great) but meanwhile the National Women’ League is down to only seven teams (hands up if you love byes!) run by the seven federations. They only play each other once before one preliminary final and a final. It’s snubbed by a fair few good players in favour of work and a summer at the beach, and it’s not hard to see why it’s treated with such little resect – obviously the feeling cuts both ways.

There are advantages to the federations having full control over the teams. In its current form it’s very much a development league with short term success not necessarily the most important goal. Hand it over to clubs, and for better or worse that would probably go out the window. The current format also makes it easier to develop other aspects of the women’s game such as female coaches, who history shows are less likely to get a fair go at clubs or franchises.

How is it that women are 50% of the population yet less than half of the coaches, in a women’s league for goodness sake, let alone a tiny fraction of football coaches overall? Three out of the seven federations have women coaching them this summer, which is a real improvement but there’s still a long way to go. If you don’t believe me, check some of the criticism those same female coaches cop way over and above that which their equally performing male counterparts have to deal with.

But despite those benefits to the current structure, the best thing that could happen to women’s football in this country might well be to make it compulsory for men’s national league clubs and franchises to also have a women’s team playing in a parallel women’s competition run over the same period.

Because not only would it force the ten Stirling Sports Premiership teams to take the women’s game seriously, but it would also force every club in New Zealand with National League aspirations to do the same. And I suspect the ratio of clubs who want to be in the Stirling Sports Premiership is about the same as the famous saying about members of parliament – half of them want to be Prime Minister and the other half pretend they don’t.

There is some irony in linking women’s structural development to men but while the game is run by and for men I’m open minded towards better ideas.

And if a Waikato team could win the National Women’s League every now and again, that would be ok with me too. Just FYI…

Categories: NZ Women's National League

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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.

8 replies

  1. The reason the Women’s game is not on the same level as the Men’s game is simply down to popularity. For whatever reason, way more people are interested in Men’s football over Women’s football. This includes women as well being far more interested in the Men’s game than the Women’s game. This is not sexist, it’s just a fact and statistic. Popularity and interest = money. In a capitalistic society money is more important than people’s feelings.

    Before I get lynched and accused of misogamy for expressed a completely fair point, I actually really enjoy Women’s football and over the years have loved supporting the Football Ferns. I hate how people turn literally everything into a gender war without even looking at the whole picture.

    1. Hi Simon,

      Thanks for your comment. I have no interest in lynching anyone but I do respectfully disagree with your argument.

      The women’s game is not less popular than the men’s game because it’s inferior – as we both appear to agree it’s not. So why else is it less popular?

      I think if the women’s game had the same levels of marketing, promotion and resources spent on its development as the men’s game, (literally billions of dollars spent on it around the world) then things might be different.

      The interview with Auckland player Britney Cunningham Lee a month or so ago was telling – she didn’t know the National Women’s League existed until she was selected to play in it!

      So it’s not fair to say the women’s game doesn’t deserve anything close to equality with men because it’s not popular when it gets no marketing and no tv time to name but two things men take for granted. That just perpetuates the problem.

      You say you don’t like it when everything gets turned into a gender war, but that’s not a big inconvenience to you compared to what it’s like to be a woman in the game who just wants what she does to be valued the same as someone born with a penis. Especially when she’s out performing him on the world stage.

      1. If you’re so uncertain about the argument you’re making that you have to spend almost as many words defending it before anyone’s even replied, maybe you should reconsider it.

      2. “For whatever reason…” infers you think it’s just the way of the world. Something that is, always has been and always will be. I strongly disagree.

        It is (currently) less “popular” in terms of the numbers who follow it and attend. It is (currently) played for a MUCH shorter season, given less marketing and promotion, less funding, and is shunted off fields in preference to men’s games (Yes, this happened in the National Women’s League this year). It’s not taken seriously by NZ Football, and it’s not invested in anywhere near as much as men’s football. It’s an afterthought, and so few football people pay it much attention.

        I would argue, to you and others pushing the “It’s just the way it is… For whatever reason” view, that it is not as popular because of THESE reasons outlined above.

        And yet our women do substantially better than our men on the world stage. They actually deserve proportionately MORE funding, but just imagine the explosion we could see if women’s football was funded and promoted equally.

  2. From what I have seen at Pride games and Dragons so games, there are as many if not more people watching the women. Raise the standard of the league, become more popular, attract more players, which raises the standard of the game, attracts coaches and sponsors, maybe even TV, which attracts more players, which raises the standard of the game, which leads to more international players, which raises the profile, which attracts more players, and raises the standard of the game….. Is this rocket science?? We need to invest in the league just like the men’s game. NZ cricket have just reported on equality in their game and addressing gaps. So should nz football.

    1. Yes! The Pride are a shining example of what can be done when the women’s game is treated seriously. WaiBOP were on the the right track in Cambridge this year too.

  3. The most glaring fetter on introducing an elongated women’s national league would appear to be the dearth of entrants actually lobbying for such a development. If the struggles of the men’s national league over the past 46 years have taught us anything, it is that it requires driven administrators, activist coaches, and influential football lobbyists to present the vision for path forward. This stuff never comes served on a plate.

    Does the women’s game have such “keepers of the flame” in its ranks? If so, who are they, and why don’t you interview them and present the leading ideas on how it might work, and why it should take precedence over other issues the women’s game faces?

    Speaking as someone who has been a volunteer administrator for a couple of years, my own view is the bottom of the pyramid needs to be addressed far more urgently in women’s football than the top of the pyramid. The base is such a fraction of the men’s and girls youth structures are remedial at club level – but regardless, these are genuine questions.

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