World Cup legacy sees New Zealand bridging gender gap in leadership roles

More women are engaging in leadership and decision-making roles in New Zealand football, with 79 women graduating from the country’s flagship leadership programme.

New Zealand’s Legacy Starts Now strategy was sparked by the 2020 decision to host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Aotearoa and Australia.

On top of national participation and inclusion programmes, a key pillar of the campaign has been increasing the number of women in leadership and decision-making roles.

“The programme looks at how to close the ‘confidence gap’ and challenge the biases that might be holding women back from pursuing a leadership role in football,” says New Zealand Football’s Women’s Development Manager Annalie Longo.

“It’s designed to create a community of women who want to increase their impact, but also arm them with the tools to deliver leadership workshops within their community and region.”

It’s an investment that’s paying dividends with four New Zealanders already selected for FIFA’s Women in Football Leadership programme.

The programme is run annually in Zurich with just 24 females hand-picked worldwide to participate.

Helen Mallon, chair of Capital Football. Photo credit: FIFA.

Helen Mallon was one of them. She’s the Chair of Capital Football and the first woman on NZ’s Football Appointments Panel.

Mallon was also the first to grow her region’s female engagement to more than 40 per cent. She says the FIFA leadership course gave her belief in herself and the realisation she “wasn’t on her own”.

“It was a game changer. It reduced a lot of fear around not being good enough to hold a figurehead position within a male-dominated sport.”

The Wellington-based administrator is passionate about sharing those insights to encourage women to develop as coaches, administrators, referees and leaders.

“We’re hosting programmes to provide females with the right opportunities. The key is to do that in a safe and trusted environment.”

Her take on legacy post-World Cup is simple. “It’s about inclusivity and opportunities for all. Ensuring that no matter where you are or your situation in life, there is something for you within the game.”

Northern Region Football chief executive Laura Menzies. Photo credit: FIFA.

Fellow FIFA graduate and football leader Laura Menzies echoes that statement. She’s the Chief Executive of Northern Region Football, the largest regional sports organisation in the country.

“In New Zealand, there’s only one professional (football) men’s and women’s team. There isn’t the opportunity to watch local football on the TV and this tournament has changed that. Football of the highest standard is on every day. You can go see a game in a packed stadium.

“People who know nothing about football have been talking about the win against Norway in the opening game of the World Cup. It was an unforgettable occasion and demonstrated the true power of the game.”

She’s thrilled women’s sport is “finally getting the recognition, investment and attention it deserves” not just globally but locally.

New Zealand Football’s Train the Trainer initiative is contributing to that, where leaders learn to deliver leadership programmes to their communities to maximise impact.

“This World Cup will undoubtedly improve the landscape for girls and women in leadership roles,” says Menzies.

The aim is for the legacy impact of co-hosting the 2023 World Cup to spread the length and breadth of New Zealand.

Acknowledgement: Story provided by FIFA.

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