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A question of priorities

Abby Erceg with Rukpinij and Silawan Intamee closing in

This morning’s shock announcement by Abby Erceg of her international retirement speaks for itself really, but I couldn’t let it pass without making one or two observations of my own…

If you haven’t already, please listen to her full interview on Radio New Zealand’s Nine to Noon show.

Abby talks about the financial stresses and difficulties of trying to maintain the lifestyle required to represent one’s country and how this has led her to give the international game away. She is hoping that her decision will draw attention to the poor support our female players get.

Football is an amateur game in New Zealand, for the most part, and New Zealand Football isn’t in the business of paying players. Nonetheless domestic based Football Ferns are expected to live in Auckland, our most expensive city, maintain an intense training schedule and be ready to drop everything whenever called upon to go on tours with the squad. On top of this they have to somehow find an employer who is willing to put up with it all and pay them a living at the same time.

The result of this is players stressed to breaking point and a team that is unable to perform at a level it might otherwise be able to if these outside pressures weren’t present.

This is not a problem that’s unique to football. Lots of other sportspeople in other codes struggle to balance their commitment to their sports with the need to put food on the table.

But what makes football stand out, in my view, is a question of priorities.

Despite the fact that we are constantly told there is no money in the game here, and despite the Ferns losing some financial backing from High Performance Sport New Zealand due to their relatively poor Olympic performance in Rio, New Zealand Football must strike a fairer balance of support for the men’s and women’s games.

For better or worse, HPSNZ allocates funding based on results. Why does NZF not do the same? The All Whites are ranked 111th in the world right now. The Football Ferns are ranked 19th. Why don’t the men’s and women’s international programmes swap budgets? Or, seeing as though the Ferns are 550% better than the All Whites, let’s give them a 550% higher budget!

Never going to happen?

Why shouldn’t it?

And why are clubs and sponsors paying weekly wages to (mostly male) players with no international prospects in the hope of winning NRFL Division whatever when the captain of our women’s national team has to quit because her team is financially struggling to afford to represent our country?

For the umpteenth time – I have no real issues with player payments at club level – but if we can pay some players in the AFF/NFF conference but not our Football Ferns when that’s what they need to meet their international commitments then we just aren’t trying hard enough.

And that’s not just on our national body – it’s on all of us.

Perhaps it’s time for a radical rethink of the way our game is set up…

Categories: Football Ferns

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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.

7 replies

  1. Sadly this is typical of women’s sport in general inadequate funding, less opportunities, less respect it’s really sad to see good on Abby for taking a stand though cause things do need to change.

  2. Hello there.

    Good punchy commentary, Enzo.

    But…correct me if I am wrong, but is it not true that NZ Football received $800,000 more for its women last year from High Performance NZ – and will again get $500,000 more for its women than men this year? (recognising this higher world ranking).

    It’s our men that are really doing it hard with the financials, given requirements for mandatory entries in a lot of these comps.

    I suspect internal football funding at international level is coloured by the greater gate receipts, broadcasting rights, and prizemoney that can be derived from the men’s game. It’s understandable to invest in spheres where you can derive this income (and it’s not so long ago we were having parents funding men’s NZ age group teams, remember). Whether we like it or not – even if it sits in inverse proportion to the current gender rankings – the inconvenient truth appears to be that men’s international football is more marketable at present. (Though I do think a lot more could be done to market NZ’s senior women’s team.)

    Bottom line, we need more money everywhere.

    But I don’t think you can seriously conflate club financial-operational strategies with expenses and commitments incurred through players aspiring to international competition.

    However I know that at my club, if any female players were suitably qualified as coaches they would be just as welcome to work on club programmes, and equally, are already welcome to sell sports advertising for a healthy share of the consideration, if they wish.

    Nick (comment above), women’s sport actually does quite well for funding at elite level, netball and women’s sevens score over a million each, women’s hockey gets almost twice the amount that men get, while male dominated sports such as rugby league struggle.

    1. Hi Bruce,

      Thanks for your provocative reply!

      I’ll take your word for it on HPSNZ funding and on a merit basis I’m sure that’s correct but those figures are obviously not the only sources of funding for each gender’s international programmes. I realise it’s hard for the men as well, but I don’t see them complaining about their share of the pie. Why is that?

      And if NZF derives greater income from men’s national teams, does it necessarily follow that they should get out the same proportion of what they bring in? That sounds to me like a recipe for perpetuating inequality.

      I’m not totally conflating club with international financial strategy. Mostly I’m suggesting that if Melville United can find a way to pay its men’s first team enough to keep them happy then why can’t the game as a whole find a way to do it for the Football Ferns?

  3. Ah, happiness, Enzo, that most elusive quality… but who among us even knew there was even a problem until today?

    However, if we are to allege financial unfairness from NZF upon gender lines I think we need to cite some evidence. (I can’t believe I’m the one defending NZF, but there you go.)

    The most recent NZF accounts I have are 2013, and I note they are not very granular in building a case either way.

    Expenditure is broadbanded into “team expenses” or “event management expenses”, without any sort of gender breakdown. It would not appear to be a means by which they demarcate. (Though I am always frustrated that an incorporated national body should present accounts on the old “bikini” basis – ie the bits they hide are far more interesting than the bits they reveal.)

    So there is a dearth of empirical data upon which to base an argument either way. (Hopefully somebody from NZF cares enough to offer a defence of their position.)

    The men’s international game does have financial support built into it in some instances. For example, in the case of the All Whites at the 2010 World Cup, not only players, but their clubs also received an expense payment for their time away. In some instances, that money to clubs has gone into infrastructure improvements (like floodlights) which have effectively cross-subsidised the women’s game.

    Mind you, the men’s game is also teetering financially. Look at Team Wellington passing the hat around to get to the Oceania Champs. Indeed, you could argue the current national league only makes financial sense as long as there is an ongoing flow of money back from World Club Champs, otherwise the men’s domestic game would be a complete financial mess. The whole world is running out of money.

    As for my club – it has no real relevance in this discussion so I don’t see why I or you would even address it by name – but to get back to happiness, we can’t always keep players happy. Indeed, if I look back at the old team photos in my clubrooms (probably most clubrooms) for a multitude of reasons there is a turnover of 35-40 per cent in men’s first team personnel from year to year. We have to do the best we can with those who are happy to play within our constraints.(If they are not happy, they may even do an Erceg.)

    The women’s game faces a number of challenges at grass roots that deserve a blog of their own. But at my club we charge lower subs for women – even though they incur the same fixed charges, and their bar take is only a fraction of what a men’s game attracts

    Unless we can go to the money tree and pick off a few ripe ones, we also have to make do as best we can at international level as well, even if it means losing the odd Erceg.

    Our code faces challenges no other team sport does in being required to enter very expensive age group world cup qualifying with no high performance money. I’m not convinced anyone has yet established the case that there has been untoward gender inequality in addressing these challenges.

    And yes, the history of the men’s game is speckled by complaints about their share of the pie at international level. Most famously, you may remember the All Whites pay stand-off in the lead-up to the 2003 Confederation Cup. But in early days there were also many classic gripes.

    Hope this helps.

  4. The demand today was basically for NZF to act as a proxy pro-club, which is ludicrous.

    If NZF were to fund 12 local players to train full-time, what does 13 say? What do the under-20s that would train alongside them for free?

    Not a lot of detail forthcoming from the complainant.

  5. Hi Enzo
    Some clubs would likely be happy to pay some of the Ferns. Shame NZF prefer that the players not on pro contracts aren’t able to play for their clubs and instead are to play metro boys league on a Sunday. This will take most of the interest away from the Prem women’s league and give young players the opportunity to aspire to play what!!!

  6. A very interesting topic – on one hand Abby deserves and has earned the right to question NZF’s commitment to Women’s Football – there should be no surprise here as we know they have underachieved in the past.

    But with her suggesting national team players be paid by NZF as a proxy pro club – I don’t think that is acceptable at all. As someone who has 1500 club members all paying levies to NZF I wouldn’t support that type of expenditure – and that’s not to say things need to change because they obviously do – and I would support money going into resource to help our national team players find pro gigs or get some money from coaching at NZF or AFF etc, or even clubs.

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