13 Jun 2018

Women's sport evoking rage - in the right way

12:59 pm on 13 June 2018

Opinion - Fans and spectators are directing a fair amount of rage at women's sport lately, but it's the right kind of criticism.

The goal for women's football over the weekend was to capture some attention for the Football Ferns. Given the tiny window in which they had to operate, they certainly did that - just not the way that a lot of people thought.

The Football Ferns do battle with Japan in Wellington.

The Football Ferns do battle with Japan in Wellington. Photo: Photosport

Sunday afternoon's 3-1 loss to Japan got the crowd the occasion deserved, with the 7,236 going through the Westpac Stadium gates making it the highest attended female football international in NZ history. However, the overwhelming response as soon as the final whistle blew is that the crowd certainly didn't get the game it deserved.

The Ferns effectively 'parked the bus' for the duration of the game, stacking all 11 players behind the ball in an attempt to nullify the Japanese attack. It didn't work, however according to coach Andreas Heraf, he completely expected his side to lose and was simply trying to use the tactic to stop it being by a bigger margin.

The backlash has been swift and furious, with the overwhelming majority of fans and writers condemning the attitude. It's an interesting narrative, one that even casual sports fans can understand easily and emote over.

Just exactly how could Heraf, and by extension NZ Football, have got this one so badly wrong? This was supposed to be a showcase for a team that consistently punches above its weight at international level, enjoying a rare home game in front of a big crowd. You'd think they would've sent them out there with the intention of making those that did show up demand more.

Even worse was that it came after NZF had made a move to provide pay parity for the Ferns. That still deserves commending, but it's hard to see how that is going to be sustainable if they keep playing this sort of football.

But there is a wider picture to all of this. The palpable rage felt through the traditional and social media alike is part of a trend around women's sport lately.

This sort of on-and-off-the-field scrutiny has seen netball and women's rugby become major storylines lately, and obviously they're not the entirely polished, PR certified, soundbites that their governing bodies would like us to be digesting.

The Silver Ferns have been an utter mess for the better part of a year. They disgraced themselves at the Commonwealth Games, coming home empty-handed. The discussion over their coaching setup and appointment process is now deafening, and deserving of every single bit of coverage it gets. It's led on to an offshoot discussion about just exactly how deserving netball really is of its place at the top of the female sports pile in NZ, anyway.

Meanwhile, NZ Rugby was forced to address the massive elephant in the room after the Black Ferns' triumph at last year's Women's Rugby World Cup. Just last month they announced that the top female players in the country would be centrally contracted, but only after some very public critique by their highest profile player and a lot of social media discussion about the issue.

The court of public opinion has spoken, and the onus is now very much on the governing bodies to actually start treating the athletes involved properly.

People aren't stupid. This uproar over a women's football result means they give a damn, and it's obvious that no one is blaming the players for the massively underwhelming result in Wellington. That's what NZF, Netball NZ and other sporting bodies should probably start realising. Sport is an emotive exercise, and to really get people engaged in its growth, those in charge need to care more than just when they can relay good news about gold medals and trophies.