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[When Tom Sermanni was appointed coach of our national women’s team, I wrote a piece critiquing the decision. I was convinced not to publish it, by people whose opinions I respect, because the players liked their new coach therefore who am I to poo-poo their choice? Since then the Football Ferns have been to a World Cup and crashed out having lost all three of their games, only managing one goal – an ‘oggie’ – in the process.

This morning I re-read what I wrote and made a unilateral decision to share it in full.]

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Yesterday, New Zealand Football announced Tom Sermanni as the new coach of the Football Ferns. My initial reaction was one of disappointment. That’s not to say that I think Sermanni is a bad choice, that he will do a bad job or that he isn’t well qualified for the role – I haven’t expressed any reservations like that about him. Yet, as I said on Twitter yesterday, I felt like this was a missed opportunity to not only show that the Muir Report really is being acted upon but also to make a positive change for the Ferns by giving them a well qualified female coach.

Despite all the press releases saying that the Muir Report is being fully acted upon, at the first available opportunity to take a bold progressive step we have defaulted to a male candidate to coach our national women’s team that has only had female coaches in two brief stints since 1975 – two years out of 43.

Stating my point of view on this drew a predictable enough reaction. I was rudely accused of, amongst other things, mansplaining, having an agenda and talking bollocks. A number of people openly said they didn’t know anything about Klimkova, and one even asked me who “the female candidate” was before proceeding to tell me she wasn’t the best candidate hot on the heels of a quick google search – the true definition of mansplaining.

These attacks came exclusively from men. The Muir Report accused New Zealand Football of a blokey male dominated culture with inappropriate banter and inadequate pathways for female coaches. Sadly, all this was borne out in the replies to a single tweet.

Yes, I agree, Sermanni is more experienced than the leading female candidate, who happens to be Jitka Klimková – a coach who was well liked by the players and many others she came in contact with when she took our under 17 women’s national team to the World Cup before being poached for the world renowned US age group system. 

Sermanni, meanwhile, has coached two women’s national teams and a team in the US National Women’s Soccer League – albeit in shortish stints with uninspiring results it has to be pointed out. Klimkova has other qualities that Sermanni doesn’t have too – one of which is she is a woman. And, given the Muir Report, being a woman should have been an advantage in this recruitment process. Even though we know that being a woman will almost certainly have been a disadvantage for Klimkova her whole career. How else can the dearth of female coaches coaching women in our game be explained? And why do you think she has less experience than her male counterpart in this process?

Because every time an appointment comes up, at whatever level, the catch cry of “the best person for the job regardless of gender” always, intentionally or not, means a male candidate. At some point there has to be some positive discrimination or the cycle will never be broken.

I have some sympathy with the argument that now is not the time. We need a safe choice to steady the ship and get the culture of the Ferns right. The trouble is now is never the time and who’s to say that after the next World Cup there won’t be some other excuse why “now is not the time.” At some point you have to take the leap and I would have thought, with everything the game has been through this year, now would be a bloody good time actually.

Since the announcement, numerous past and present Ferns have come out on social media and lauded Sermanni as a great appointment and for all I know he had the full support of the PFA and that’s great. A lot of fans are excited and that’s also great. I am excited too.

But surely I am allowed to be excited for the Ferns and disappointed with the slow rate of progress at the same time. Both from New Zealand Football and the Twitteristi. I’m impatient for equality in our game and if that’s an agenda then so be it.

Categories: Football Ferns

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.

4 replies

  1. Well thought out and penned, Enzo. I’ve watched a little bit of the WWC and been a tad surprised at the lack of female coaches. While ostensibly the same game it occurs to me, that the small differences would mean female coach might have a better understanding of those differences and thus an advantage over a male.

    And a dumb question: in my experience of pre match and after match, the coaches are normally in the thick of it, talking and giving instructions while the players get kitted up, legs strapped, physio doing their massages etc. So how does it work in the ladies game? Does a male coach just have to loiter outside till everyone is changed?

    Lastly I reckon there should be a pathway for female players to take up coaching after they finish playing. I can’t think why that’s not really a thing to my knowledge (ok there probably is).

  2. “So how does it work in the ladies game? Does a male coach just have to loiter outside till everyone is changed?”

    Yes, that’s my experience of such things.

  3. Another aspect of the gender issue, while slowly changing, is female involvement in the male game. We’re seeing some quality refs coming through and some team managers (Cambridge to the fore of course…) but I simply haven’t seen women coaching in the men’s game.

    It could of course be happening and I just haven’t seen it.

    I favour the best people for the job regardless of gender but that only works when those people are recognised

    1. As luck would have it I have something special planned for this weekend in the women coaching men space. Keep an eye on 5-3-2. 😉

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