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The year of a Ferns fairytale, football and fair pay

From the Silver Ferns’ stunning World Cup victory, to the fight for equal pay, it’s been a big year for women in sport. Fair Play’s Zoë George looks back at what 2019 had to offer both on and off the field.

It has been another year of great success for women in the sporting realm, proving we belong both on and off the court - from football and the Ferns, to fearless decision making and funding.

Silver Ferns stun at the World Cup

Under the guidance of Noeline Taurua, the Silver Ferns proved they had the guts, and dedication, to come back from years of instability. No one could have predicted their turn-around from being beaten by Malawi in April 2018, to raising the World Cup in July 2019.

It’s not just the story of year, but of the decade, according to Member of Parliament and former Silver Fern Louisa Wall. She went to Liverpool to support the team and play in the Parli-Ferns – the New Zealand Parliament netball team.

She compares the Ferns’ World Cup win to the story of Cool Runnings, and the Jamaican bobsled team.

“It’s a phenomenal story for me,” she says. "The ability of a coach to pull together a dispirited group of athletes, and to reignite the passion… and to inspire, to motivate. If we hadn’t have seen it, we never would have believed it.

“For me, Noeline should win the Halbergs overall; not just the coach but she should win the whole thing.”

LockerRoom editor Suzanne McFadden says it was a “fairytale” story for the Ferns.

“If you’d asked me 12 months before… if it was possible for them to win, I would have laughed and said no,” she says. “I’m just so impressed with what [Taurua] did, but also the way the players responded to what she asked of them, because she believed in them and told them over and over that she believed that they could do it. That’s what had been missing.”

More funding for women and girls in sport

In 2018, the government announced a $10m fund to align with its Women and Girls in Sport Strategy.

In October this year, at the first Women and Girls in Sport Summit in Wellington, hosted by Women in Sport Aotearoa and Sport New Zealand, the Minister for Sport Grant Robertson announced a further $2.7 million for women in high performance coaching and leadership.

Louisa Wall says the government will continue to support the growth of women and girls in sport, including encouraging sports boards to have at least 40 percent of women on boards by 2021; supporting both the women’s cricket and rugby World Cups in New Zealand in 2021;  and by supporting Women in Sport Aotearoa, who are hosting the Women and Sport Secretariat & Conference in Auckland in 2022.

Just this week, Robertson announced a joint bid with the Australian government to host the next Women’s Football World Cup.

Former Silver Fern and Black Fern, now Labour MP Louisa Wall. Photo: Getty Images. 

“We do this because… sport provides an amazing context to develop women and girls,” Wall says. “We know through sports… the values you learn are teamwork, but fundamentally creating strong and stroppy women.

“To be competitive in sport, you have to believe in yourself, you have to have desire, you have to be competitive. These traits are what we want women to have throughout society.”

The fight for equal pay continues

“Equal pay. Equal pay”. That was the chant from the crowd following the Fifa Women’s World Cup final in France in July.

It’s started a wave of conversation, led by the US women’s team, who are fighting for equal pay with men footballers. 

In November, the team’s gender discrimination class action lawsuit against US Soccer was accepted by the District Court for the Central District of California. The team will go to court in March 2020.

“The momentum that they’ve built up, it’s been phenomenal,” says WiSP Sports founder Chris Stafford. “It’s resonated across the country… within the media and sponsorship and beyond.”

But it’s not just equal pay they are asking for. “The suit apparently alleges that US Soccer’s payment practices amount to federal discrimination by paying the women less than the men,” Stafford says. “It was for substantially equal work and denying them at least equal playing, training… and travel conditions. The way the game is promoted and the support systems.

“It’s basic terms and conditions of employment that should be equal to the men’s and that’s all they’re asking.”

Another group of female athletes who said “show me the money” in 2019 is New Zealand's women cricketers.

In August, a new three-year agreement was signed between New Zealand Cricket and the Cricket Players Association.

It saw the number of centrally-contracted international female players increased from 15 to 17, with a base retainer of $44,000 to $64,000. Eight development contracts were offered along with 54 domestic contracts, with these players being paid for the first time.

Those at the domestic level receive $3250 for the entire season. Male domestic players have a base retainer of $27,000 to $54,000 plus match fees.

White Ferns star Sophie Devine. Photo: Getty Images. 

White Ferns all-rounder Sophie Devine says the pay helps female cricketers concentrate on their sport, rather than having to take unpaid leave from their days jobs.

“A lot of the girls still have jobs on the side because the money isn’t at a stage where you can do solely cricket – there’s a few of us who can do that – but it’s enabled a lot of the females to spend a bit more time not just on cricket…but everything that comes alongside it; the mental side, the physical side,” she says. “This is something we’ve been asking for for a while now.”

She says England and Australia have invested in the female players, with domestic competitions and international teams having success.

Prizemoney is still an issue though. In 2020, Australia will host both the men’s and women’s ICC World T20 competitions. Cricket Australia - rather than the governing body, the International Cricket Council - is to match the prizemoney for the Women’s T20 tournament, to ensure parity with the men.

The prize pot has increased to $3.2m from $2m in 2017. The competition winners will receive $1m, and the runners-up $500,000.

“At the end of the day we are both playing cricket and there shouldn’t be too much difference [in money] for that,” Devine says.

Why Rachel Māia chose to amputate her leg

In April Fair Play spoke with para-climber Rachel Māia, who chose to amputate her left leg just below the knee.

Her decision wasn’t made lightly. After struggling for 20 years following a devastating climbing accident which decimated her left leg, she decided it was time for it to go.

She had it amputated in February and we recorded the interview 48 hours after the amputation.

The vivacious, driven athlete was back on the wall only 12 weeks later, competing at the nationals, the went to worlds in France, five months after the amputation. 

It has helped her climbing, but it’s the little things that have been most affected by her decision. “For me the journey was always more about those little ones with my kids,” she says.

And what did she do with her leg? “It’s in my wardrobe!” she laughs. Māia had it cremated, and it currently sits in an urn, reminiscent of a coffee keep cup.

She does have a prosthetic, but hasn’t been climbing with it. She’s hoping to try in the New Year.

But it’s been hard to train. The road which connects her to the closest climbing wall has been washed out and has impeded her training. It’s a three-and-a-half hour round journey at the best of times. She’s had to build a climbing wall in her garage. But the support from the community has been encouraging.

“I’m so thankful for who we are as a country and the way we get behind all the athletes and support them,” she says. “That’s definitely affected me and given me an extra boost when I’m feeling the pressure.”

She’s focused on her family – three children, one of whom as the “super power” of autism - and sport in 2020. She wants to be the first New Zealand climber to bring home a medal on the world stage and has her eye on nationals.

* Fair Play is a monthly sports podcast made in association with RNZ, LockerRoom and WiSP Sports. The show is taking a break over summer but will return in February.

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