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NZ builds world-first hub for women’s sport

A global digital hub collecting research and stories of sportswomen from around the world will be New Zealand’s ongoing legacy to women and sport.

Let’s say you’re a young footballer in the Hawke's Bay who, against the odds, has started up a team for girls. Or you’re a researcher in Connecticut looking at why there aren’t enough women leaders in sport.

And you both want to share your successes, struggles and findings with the rest of the world.

For the first time, there will be a digital hub where research on women in sport and the personal stories of sportswomen will be collected from around the world and shared freely. And it’s being created here in New Zealand.

The ‘Insight Hub’ will be New Zealand’s legacy from holding the International Working Group (IWG) World Conference on Women and Sport, in Auckland in 2022. The conference will be one of the ‘Big Four’ women’s sports events planned to hit New Zealand over the next three years – alongside World Cups in rugby, cricket and football.  

And as the impacts of a global pandemic continue to reverberate through sport – and impact women’s sport more adversely – establishing a hub where athletes, administrators, leaders and researchers can communicate their experiences is timely.

 
 

The theme for the world conference, ‘Change Inspires Change’, was launched today and it's become even more apt since Covid-19 struck.

“Because of Covid, we’re living the idea of ‘change inspires change’ every day,” says Rachel Froggatt, who is both CEO of Women in Sport Aotearoa, and secretary general for the IWG. “The concept was born in January, so it’s meant having to think outside the box and change some of our creative ideas around the way we deliver the world conference.”

In these times of uncertainty, Froggatt and her local organising committee have decided the conference in May 2022 will be a physical-digital hybrid event. In other words, people around the world who can’t get to Auckland will still be able to take part virtually. Both programmes will be given equal weight, rather than the online programme simply being a window to the event in Auckland.

And they wanted the involvement to start now, rather than it just be a 'pop-up event' in two years’ time.

“Our theme came out of a simple idea to empower the individual and for people to feel that their contribution – however large or small - is meaningful, is appreciated and can inspire the next person, and the next,” Froggatt says.

“We’re going to encourage people to tell their stories, tell us what they’re doing, and what they’re seeing. And to tell us how they are making positive change for women and girls. We see that passing on the wisdom by telling people’s stories will help a whole raft of people wherever they are in their journey in the world.”

From today, when the ‘Change Inspires Change’ campaign is launched digitally, people will be able to submit their stories for consideration while the interactive Insight Hub is being built (it’s scheduled to go live early next year).

Froggatt sees the hub becoming a repository for the world’s best research, insight, case studies, news, webinars and live events around women in sport. “We’ll create this entire platform which will be the first in the world for the women in sport movement on a global scale,” she says.

“There are some fantastic people around the world doing amazing research for their own countries or regions, but there’s not a single global hub, which is what we’ll be building over the next six months and leading into the conference.

“We see it as New Zealand’s legacy to the IWG, and when the world conference is handed over to the next host nation, this really fantastic interactive platform will go with it and grow bigger and bigger. It’s a really exciting, a really intensive two-year journey that starts now.”

Drawing in the research shouldn't be difficult, with both Women in Sport Aotearoa and the IWG network having “extensive relationships” with academics and researchers around the world. 

“The IWG on Women and Sport is the world’s largest network of experts and professionals in women’s sport. We think it’s our job to promote and support the work of those members of the network and share it as widely as we can across the world,” Froggatt says.

Rachel Froggatt, CEO of Women in Sport Aotearoa and secretary general of the 2022 IWG world conference. Photo: Supplied

The hub will also be an opportunity to show the world the work that’s being done for women and girls in sport in New Zealand.  

Investments like the government’s Women and Girls in Sport and Active Recreation strategy launched two years ago to pour $10 million into women’s sport over three years. And the Women in High Performance Sport project injecting female coaches and leaders into roles in New Zealand sporting codes.

Froggatt says the global pandemic has highlighted how women’s sport is still treated as the poor relation when the hard squeeze is put on finances.  

“In a Covid environment, it’s more important than ever to address some of the reactions we’re seeing around the world,” she says. “We’re seeing the first thing sports administrators do is to cut the women’s programme, or strip their resources and budgets.

“In the beginning it was awful; one of the worst times we’ve seen in terms of how quickly those who had been supporters of women’s sport suddenly dropped it.

“So we need to be louder and more constructive to protect the interests of women and girls right now, or it will be a very long time for women’s sport to recover.”

Still, Froggatt says it’s been heartening to see some positive intervention, primarily through governments, to prevent the more adverse reactions.

“It’s better than it was, but it’s still a real concern. There’s still a feeling that perhaps we haven’t seen the worst of the fallout from Covid yet,” she says. “That’s why having this open dialogue via a digital hub with all of those people who can have an impact on women and girls in sport is really important now.”

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