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