The latest casualty of Covid constraints, the IWG world conference on women & sport – one of four major sports events in NZ over the next two years – has been delayed six months. 

The world’s largest conference on women and sport, to be hosted by New Zealand in 2022, has been postponed – the decision becoming inevitable with around 1200 of the world’s sports leaders unable to attend because of the global pandemic.

It’s the third of the ‘Big Four’ women’s sports events taking place in New Zealand over the next two years to be delayed by the worldwide effects of Covid-19.  

Two of the three women’s World Cups – cricket and rugby – were put off for a year, and will be played here next year. The FIFA Women’s World Cup remains on target to go ahead as planned in 2023.

The 8th IWG World Conference on Women & Sport was to have been held in Auckland in early May 2022, and has now been pushed out six months to November 14-17.

But in a silver lining, the global event now dovetails neatly with the end of the Rugby World Cup, which has its final at Eden Park on November 12.

The pandemic had already changed the face of the four-yearly summit, transforming it into a digital-physical hybrid event.

But with New Zealand’s borders not opening until May 1 next year, it meant overseas presenters and sports leaders couldn’t clear the seven-day self-isolation period in time to attend the conference.

Rachel Froggatt, secretary general of the International Working Group (IWG) on Women & Sport, says organisers had to decide whether to continue to hold the conference in May, but it completely online, or to postpone it.

With the advice of partners, and the help of extra funding from Sport New Zealand to tide them over to November, they chose the latter option.

“The postponement gives us the best shot of realising the original vision we have for the event, to advance sport by empowering women and girls,” says Froggatt, who’s also CEO of Women in Sport Aotearoa, who are delivering the conference. 

Rachel Froggatt, CEO of Women in Sport Aotearoa and secretary general of the IWG secretariat. Photo: supplied. 

Pushing back the IWG conference was triggered by the government’s announcement last month that New Zealand would open its borders to international travellers on 11.59am on April 30 next year, followed by seven days of home isolation.

Froggatt says with the event slated to take place on May 5-8, any international conference delegates wouldn’t be clear of quarantine in time to attend.

Around 600 presenters are expected at the conference, and 90 percent of those are international.

“We’re also expecting over 600 international leaders to attend. With the International Olympic Committee as a partner, they want to bring their international family to New Zealand, too,” she says.

Over the last three weeks, those running the IWG secretariat in New Zealand for the past three years put together a “fast, but robust consultation” to find a solution. They consulted with Sport NZ, the Women in Sport Aotearoa board, the IWG global executive and funding partners including the IOC.

After landing on six possible scenarios, they whittled it down to two – a purely digital version of the event or postponement.

“The overwhelming preference was to postpone,” Froggatt says.

“We were incredibly fortunate to receive funding from the government – much the same as they did with the cricket and rugby World Cups. Now we’re in a position to deliver the original vision – a highly collaborative, highly connected open learning experience, to advance equity for women and girls.”

Moving to mid-November also means international leaders attending the Rugby World Cup, to be played in Northland and Auckland, could stay on for the conference. “We have the very enthusiastic support of the Rugby World Cup and New Zealand Rugby,” Froggatt says.

They also have the “unanimous support” of the IWG global executive in making their decision, and the UK secretariat, who take on the running of the next four years of the IWG from October 1.

There is a back-up plan, too, if border restrictions in November are back in place.

“If the worst happens and the world is still in a state of flux, we can deliver a fully digital event,” Froggatt says.

“We are in a really good place with the planning and set-up of the conference, so  we will be able to spend the extra six months focusing on Women in Sport Aotearoa initiatives to advance gender equity in New Zealand.”

Suzanne McFadden, the 2021 Voyager Media Awards Sports Journalist of the Year, founded LockerRoom, dedicated to women's sport.

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