9 May 2018

Ferns' pay parity deal took its toll before being struck

11:21 am on 9 May 2018

Opinion - Over to you, football fans.

Here it is. The situation that an awful lot of players and sports fans alike had been hoping for simply emerged out of nowhere yesterday. New Zealand Football (NZF), an organisation that has been more known for foolish decisions and administrative oversights, announced the women's Football Ferns would be contracted and supported the same way as the men are.

And they're being given a chance to justify it straight away.

Given they're ranked 113 places higher in the FIFA world rankings than the All Whites, it makes a lot of sense. It also makes a lot of sense given that the women will have a much easier time getting more meaningful games and tournaments on the world stage. So, on paper, it's a sound investment by NZF.

Former captain Abby Erceg has returned to the Football Ferns after her departure due to financial difficulties.

Photo: Photosport

However, it should be noted that a reasonable amount of player agitation played its part in this happening. Abby Erceg walked away from international football in February of last year, citing financial difficulties as the sole reason. She didn't sugar-coat it either, which is what you can do when you've been capped 130 times, are the team captain, and are regarded as one of the world's best players.

A year on, Erceg is back and will have the coin in her pocket that she needed. The Football Ferns will play their first home game at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, and against a quality opposition side in Japan. It's the 20th ranked team up against the 11th, which would make it one of the highest quality women's internationals ever played on NZ soil.

The stage has been set for 10 June. They have the ground where the All Whites pulled off their World Cup qualifying heroics, and even a promise they will get the incredible Laser Kiwi flag hoisted in their honour. It's looking like the biggest day for women's football in Aotearoa in a long, long time.

Football prides itself as having the highest participation level in the country, so it's time for the base of that playing pyramid to really support the top by turning out in force.

This comes on the back of NZ Rugby announcing the Black Ferns will be playing double-headers when the All Blacks do the same against Australia. They haven't gone as far as to sort out a new pay deal for the women, but it's apparently in the works. Like the Football Ferns match, it's the opportunity for supporters of the women's game to get their chance to show up in numbers and make it clear that it's a worthy investment.

But this is where the Football Ferns have the advantage over their rugby-playing counterparts. Women's football is a ridiculously bigger sport than rugby, and the Ferns' ranking will mean they can draw quality opposition both home and abroad on a regular basis. With all due respect to women's rugby, the only teams able to challenge the Black Ferns are the ones whose national unions decide they're worth funding - a situation that is completely out of NZ Rugby's hands.

One of the biggest critiques (and one that predictably got rolled out yesterday on social media when the parity news was announced) is the lack of interest in women's sport, in terms of money and crowd sizes, is because people don't want to pay to see it due to it being inferior to men's sport. Of course, you can simply point to women's tennis to disprove that theory, but the interest in that had to start somewhere. This is why, if this is going to work, this football match needs as many Westpac Stadium seats filled as possible.

Now women's tennis players get paid the same riches the men do, and the top players stand alongside their male counterparts as among the most recognisable athletes in the world. The Football Ferns can now start building on the opportunity given to them, because NZF have played their part.

This is good news not just for women's football, but sport in general. In fact, it's great news, and a great opportunity. Sure beats hearing about Israel Folau for another week.

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