Female football stars talk gender dynamics in sport


In the spirit of ‘Going Beyond’, Hamilton Host City held a FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 Trophy Tour event featuring a stellar line up at the K’aute Pasifika Fale, to empower future generations in sport. The well-attended event inspired guests to dream big and uplift others.

Past and present female sporting personalities on the panel included current Football Fern Michaela Foster, ex-Football Fern Joy Howland and FIFA Referee Sarah Jones. MC and Olympian Sarah Cowley-Ross led the discussion with the panel on how far women’s sport has come, in the lead-up to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.

The theme of the evening was – ‘the changing dynamics of gender in sport’ and saw the unveiling of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Original Trophy, which was on its last leg of the Waikato and Bay of Plenty Trophy Tour. The aim of the tour is to inspire young females and create excitement ahead of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, which is kicking off in Hamilton Kirikiriroa on Saturday, July 22.

The audience comprised of many young female footballers including local team The Wanderers who came to support and learn from some footballing idols.

FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 COO New Zealand Jane Patterson and Cambridge High School student and prefect and captain of the girl’s football team Jess Savage delivered the opening address.

Current Football Fern Michaela Foster shared with the audience how the road to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 takes its time with the first big opportunity coming her way at the age of 24. Importantly, she says, everyone has a different story and different milestones.

Part of a well-known sporting family – her father Ian Foster is the All Black’s coach, Michaela understands the challenges of playing professionally.

“Football stuck with me when I started at the age of seven. Our parents always encouraged us to create our path, and playing football with my sister became the highlight of my childhood years. I am a proud daughter, and he’s a proud dad.”

Michaela was a coach at Hamilton Girls’ High School when she received a scholarship to play professionally. She worked at a supermarket to pay the bills, but says the journey made the success more respected.

“Navigating the sporting world after high school is critical for young players. It is crucial that we have inlets into sporting communities along with pathways to pursue career opportunities for young girls. In addition to this, watching women in both sports as well as leadership roles in the sports fraternity will be a boost for young girls.”

FIFA referee Sarah Jones highlighted the need to break barriers for women to continue sports after school, university, or even after getting married and having children.

“We need to tell women that it is possible to follow your passion even with a family and a career. If you love doing it, you can always go for it,” she says.

“The fitness levels are higher for both players and referees. With various learning modules, and training sessions before the games begin and even during the World Cup, the referees are also required to exhibit skill and aptitude along with fitness. A speed test, agility test, strength test, core and flexibility training and several criteria, it is a mix of hard work, learning and continuous commitment to one’s passion that come into play as a referee. But I would not have it any other way. It is a commitment I have made to my passion.”

Ex-Football Fern Joy Howland, who was sporting her team jersey from the 1989 World Cup, reminisced about how times have changed and the game of football itself has changed drastically.

“It is such a great feeling to see more girls and all-girls teams when I go to my son’s football games on
Saturday mornings.”

She also reminisced about her days on the New Zealand team.

“It was just a bunch of mates playing for the country. We never had the structure or institutional support that is now available. It was all about the love for the game. We were fundraising on the weekends, requesting people to buy our tickets, door knocking and trying everything we could. It was a constant cycle of ‘play, train and fundraise’ for us.”

When asked about how the next generation of girls can be motivated to take on sports, she had a sound piece of advice for the players.

“Talent is great, but often not enough. Mentors can have immense impact in developing the drive and commitment and show you how to keep the passion high and prepare a plan of action for you.”

She also had a message for parents which was received.

“Focus on presence not pressure. Be available, show up for games on the side lines and support your girls in their journey. It would be great to see New Zealand go to the next level with higher participation and more visibility.”

Hamilton is set to host five matches from 22 July 2023. An impressive number of 1million tickets have been sold so far in both the host nations, Australia and New Zealand, which shows a positive change for women’s sports and increased support from spectators.

Girls with Goals celebrates Waikato waahine

As the host city for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, Hamilton Kirikiriroa recently launched its Girls with Goals campaign to showcase the strengths and achievements of local Waikato waahine.

The 11 inspirational women have been chosen to celebrate the community by capturing their stories and goals.

The aim of the campaign is to promote gender equality, diversity and inclusion with the hope of inspiring others to create and smash their goals.

The achievements of these women will be shared through public displays of empowerment with a city-wide dressing leading up to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.

The 11 include co-founder and director of Talents of the Pacific Academy Landy Tyrell Nonoa, Special Olympics co-founder and head coach Shelley Blair and Dame Malvina Major Foundation Studio Artist with NZ Opera for 2021 Katherine Winitana.

The full line up of Girls with Goals can be found at girlswithgoals.co.nz. The 11 women featured here are only a few of many who have positively impacted and inspired our community.

Photo credit: Sophie-Miya Smith


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