Creating positive social change through sport is at the heart of Michele Cox’s game plan in her new role as CEO of the New Zealand Football Foundation.
Cox has just taken up the role and is balancing it with her part-time position as the national female participation manager for New Zealand Cricket.
The former Football Fern turned sports administrator says sport can help society.
“We need to use every tool we can to help build social cohesion,” she says. “Just because we’re a developed country, it doesn’t mean we don’t have problems that sport can’t help fix.”
She’s worked with some of the most influential organisations in football – including Fifa and UEFA – on some of the biggest strategies to help create positive change through sport.
She was part of a group that successfully fought for women to be allowed to wear headscarves on the football pitch and took the game into refugee camps in Jordan during the Syrian war.
“One of the key problems there was that the young boys were bored, and they had nothing to do. They started causing trouble, stealing, vandalizing and attacking girls,” she says. “So we went in there and built some football pitches and set up some competitions.
“That really helped not only stop those sorts of problems, but also helped alleviate the trauma that those people had gone through.”
Her attention is now on social change in New Zealand. “I’ve personally experienced and seen so many other people experience all the great benefits there are of sports; psychological, social… and all the physical stuff,” she says. “And that’s sort of where my love is for this, what we can do… we can do so much more in New Zealand and that space.”
The NZ Football Foundation provides funding and opportunities for the next generation of athletes to excel and to support the sport at the community level.
“We just want to make New Zealand better through, and for, football, and that’s my aim,” Cox says. “That’s what excited me about this role, because we can really make this as big as we want to and really help not only football in New Zealand, [but] New Zealand through football.”
Cox says for wider change to occur, sporting bodies need to work together. “[It’s about] learning how to bring all those people together and … get the best out of the sport and the best for the country out of sport too.”
Also on this month’s Fair Play, Kiwi Ferns captain Honey Hireme talks doubleheaders and the team’s new sponsor; the new head of the Women’s Cricket World Cup 2021, Andrea Nelson, chats about what needs to be done in the next two years before the event; and we catch up with Para-climber Rachel Maia as she prepares for the worlds in France next month.
Fair Play is made in association with RNZ, WiSPSports and LockerRoom.