1 Dec 2023

Women's footballers mount calls for greater support

9:57 am on 1 December 2023
Manaia Elliott has been called up to the New Zealand Football Ferns squad for their series against Colombia

Manaia Elliott has been called up to the New Zealand Football Ferns squad for their series against Colombia Photo: Photosport

A newly-named Football Fern says she has seen the negative impact poor mental health can have on players - with her words carrying extra weight following the sudden departure of Wellington Phoenix player Chloe Knott.

A recent survey found women's football is failing its players in key areas including medical support and pay.

Surveying players from this year's World Cup, 60per cent said they lacked mental health support, while one in three earned less than NZ$48,000 a year from football.

Football Ferns winger Manaia Elliott was called up to the New Zealand squad for their series against Colombia and the 18-year-old agrees that women need more support in the game.

"It's become so evident in recent years, I've seen it firsthand with teammates, how it affects the game. and at the end of the day, everyone is just there to turn up and play the game they love and sometimes performances can be affected by quite dramatically. So I think that's something that needs to be addressed."

Influential midfielder Knott announced on Thursday she was leaving the Phoenix with immediate effect because it was no longer financially sustainable to play there and she also felt players weren't being listened to by club management.

In a post of social media site 'X', formerly Twitter, she said her "values no longer align with the club or current management".

Phoenix midfielder Chloe Knott.

Phoenix midfielder Chloe Knott. Photo: Photosport

"I want to work in an environment where all employees feel valued and respected at all ages and in every phase of their career, where their commitment and sacrifice is understood and appreciated, without needing to ask for it first.

"It's not good enough to wait for something drastic to happen before changes are made.

"I hope that this (my departure) can be a catalyst for systemic cultural change within the club and particularly the women's game."

Having been thrust into the international spotlight early on through the age grade system, Elliott says while progress has been made, there is a long road ahead.

"In terms of mental health support, I've felt support but I think it could have really improved and in terms of pay equity is not even near where it needs to be. So that's something that needs to be looked at and will definitely affect the future of women's football."

The former New Zealand under-19 skipper had her childhood dream realised earlier this month when a phone call came from Football Ferns coach Jitka Klimokova.

The same year she sat in the stands watching the ferns make history at the World Cup, Elliott is now running around on the same pitch as her heroes having been called up to replace the injured Meikayla Moore.

"It's all happened quite quickly, I'm obviously always pushing towards it but didn't quite know it was coming so soon, but I'm prepared and I'm ready to be here."

She said she has been in awe of her new teamates.

"The girls have been so welcoming, it's been so nice to meet such great players who have been playing for the Ferns for a while and it shows on the field."

New Zealand's Manaia Elliott.

New Zealand's Manaia Elliott. Photo: Photosport

Elliott has featured in all five of the Wellington Phoenix women's matches to start the A-League and scored her maiden goal in the team's second-round win over Western Sydney Wanderers.

"I'm just turning up to training and trying to perform."

Taking on the 22nd ranked side in the world, Elliott is under no illusions as to the tough task that awaits but feels her experience will set her in good stead for the step up.

"It's such a different environment to age grade, but i think it will definitely help with my knowledge of how incredible teams are overseas and what a challenge they will bring and Columbia are such an awesome side."

The Ferns will be coming into Sunday's match off the back of two losses to Chile.

"The team always has a winning mentality, the results sometimes don't go our way but I'm confident we can put out a good performance."

Football Ferns vs Columbia

10am Sunday, December 3, Estadio El Campin, Bogotá