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Bosses lay bare inequalities in women’s sport

When there is a squeeze on a sport's finances, women's competitions are most in danger, say some of the country's sports leaders. 

The inequalities women's sports face have been laid bare to the Epidemic Response Committee, with those representing elite sport and athletes breaking down just who would be missing out - and by how much - if substantial targeted financial support for women's sport was not forthcoming.

Netball New Zealand chief executive Jennie Wyllie said her sport had 350,000 players and she was worried what the future held.

"Our most vulnerable are netballers, our most discriminated against are netballers and netball was their means of escape, sometimes the only one, and those doors are currently shut,” she told the committee. “But our future business, community and household leaders, particularly the female ones, are also netballers.

"Because sport is rebuilding in so many capacities, the time is right to create equality."

Wyllie said the Covid-19 situation provided an opportunity for the delivery of sport and sport funding to be re-looked at.

"We've had systemic under-investment in female sport in New Zealand for decades and this is the opportunity for that to be different and to change and to be readdressed. But I'm talking hundreds of millions of dollars of under-investment in female participation."

The semi-professional environment of women's elite sport in New Zealand highlighted additional challenges.

New Zealand Netball Players Association executive manager Steph Bond said the women at the top of their game were having to consider whether they could afford to keep playing.

"They've got jobs outside of sport and we're now asking them to potentially extend seasons,” Bond said. “They're having to choose whether they stay in the sport or actually go and earn their income that supplements their sport income, so I think those are massive challenges for the families at home mentally as well."

New Zealand Athletes Federation chairman Rob Nichol said women's sport was often seen by national sporting organisations as a cost that could be cut.

When there is a squeeze on a sport's finances, women's competitions are most in danger.

"We are feeling the pressure that sports are dealing with and the decisions they're having to make around what they focus on and what they don't focus on,” Nichol said.  

“Women's sport is one of those ones where it requires investment. And if they haven't got the funds to invest and they've got an option of going with something else that can generate revenue, then they're going to go with the other thing.

"Whereas if government understand and they are able to really zero in, they can target that investment and give confidence to the sports to keep the momentum around women's sport going."

An elite women's team on the chopping block due to the need to save money this year is the Warriors women's side, playing in the NRLW.

Warriors chief executive Cameron George said the core activity of the rugby league club was the men's NRL side, and other activities were secondary.

"We're one of four clubs in the NRL that has invested heavily [in the NRLW] and we take that very seriously, but of course it is also an additional spend that has been most recently applied in the last couple of years of the game, we're going to have to reconsider."

George said the privately owned club could not afford to keep fully funding the women's team, but he did see one lifeline to keep a side in the NRLW.

"If we can get some significant help from outside parties for that then we will continue to invest and drive and grow that sport, because it's so important for the fabric of New Zealand that females get the same opportunity as what the males do,” he said. “And we feel very good that we've provided this chance."

All those speaking to the Epidemic Response Committee about sport shared a common goal.

They wanted immediate action so that sport for all could survive.

* This story was originally published on RNZ Sport and has been republished with permission. 

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