One of the ‘Big Four’ women’s sports events in NZ, the world’s largest conference to advance gender equity in sport will drop a knowledge bomb on Auckland next week, says Rachel Froggatt.

Aotearoa New Zealand hosts the four-day IWG World Conference on Women & Sport next week – the largest gathering in the world to advance gender equity and equality in sport and physical activity. It is one of the ‘Big Four’ women’s sporting events being hosted on our shores, keeping illustrious company with the cricket, rugby and football World Cups.

It’s a coming together of people leading change around the world – change in strategy, perception, focus, understanding, business models, events, safeguarding, rules and more. These are the leaders and changemakers who are making the difference for women and girls.

This will be the eighth and largest edition of the event in the nearly 30-year history of the International Working Group (IWG) on Women & Sport, and Aotearoa New Zealand’s largest-ever sporting conference.

The in-person registrations closed yesterday, with 1200 participants now expected at Te Pokapū – The Aotea Centre next Monday. Virtual registrations are still open, with more than 500 people expected to join the conference via a world-class conferencing system.

Sarai Bareman, FIFA’s chief women’s football officer, is among the speakers at the IWG 2022 conference. Photo: Supplied. 

Participants come from more than 300 organisations in over 60 countries. There are more than 220 sessions and nearly 500 international presenters, with delegations from some of the biggest names in world sport, including the International Olympic Committee, FIFA, World Rugby, the Japan Sports Council and the Australian Institute of Sport.

So, what does it take to put together a conference like this?

We chat to Rachel Froggatt, chief executive of Women in Sport Aotearoa, Ngā Wāhine Hākinakina o Aotearoa (WISPA) and secretary general of the International Working Group on Women & Sport.

LockerRoom: What can we expect at IWG 2022?

Froggatt: You can expect it to be completely different from any other conference you’ve ever attended!

For starters, it’s built upon social learning principles inspired by the beautiful Māori concepts of Manaakitanga (extending compassion), Kaitiakitanga (giving freely), and Whanaungatanga (creating connections). So almost 90 percent of all content is fully interactive – in fact we only have one featured keynote speaker standing up on each of the four days. 

Rachel Froggatt says the biggest challenge of bringing the IWG conference to New Zealand was the impact of Covid. Photo: supplied

The event has been designed by a programming team featuring over 150 experts from more than 30 countries. It took close to two years to design the framework, which is structured around five key themes– leadership, active lives, high performance, visibility and voice, and social change – which will be examined through seven lenses – indigeneity, technology, data and innovation, health and wellbeing, systems, resources and investment, environmental sustainability, human rights and integrity.

Speakers will present in teams, with a view to presenting as many diverse viewpoints as we possibly can on each topic. The plan is to create a safe, open forum for difficult discussions around sensitive topics such as transgender inclusion in sport.

And to help organise the four days, we are incredibly proud to have been gifted use of Matariki as an organising framework by our iwi partner, Ngāti Whātua Orākei. Matariki heralds new beginnings and is a predictor of good fortune, positive change and prosperity. Each of our themes align to a different whetū (star).

You can expect to be challenged, celebrated, encouraged, and inspired – both by the international experts scheduled to speak and interact with participants on the ground and online, but also by the hundreds of participants on the journey alongside you.

LockerRoom: What’s been the biggest challenge?

Froggatt: You won’t be surprised to hear me say Covid-19, and financial wellbeing. IWG 2022 was delayed six months from its original date, but there was a silver lining.

First, we took a decision in March 2020 to become a hybrid event. So, while we have a huge contingent on the ground, we now also have hundreds of people dialling in from far flung places all around the globe, reaching so many more people than we would have originally.

Second, working with our good friends at the women’s Rugby World Cup, we made the decision to dovetail IWG 2022 into the end of the tournament. This has meant many of our participants have been able to travel out a few days early to attend the final, and its also meant we’ve been able to set up partnerships with the likes of World Rugby, who are holding nearly 50 of their emerging leaders over in Auckland for another week. (Side point here: Go the Black Ferns!).

The delay of the conference has meant visitors to NZ for the Rugby World Cup are able to stay on and attend. Photo: World Rugby/Hagen Hopkins

Financial wellbeing has also been top of mind constantly. WISPA is a small charity, entirely reliant on government funding, grants, commercial partnerships and philanthropy. The budget to stage IWG 2022 is close to $2.2 million, and we don’t receive any funding from the global IWG body. The event was never intended to make a profit; its purpose is purely social impact. I’m thrilled to say that over the past week, we’ve finally broken even.

We’re incredibly grateful to the New Zealand government, though Sport New Zealand, which has funded around a third of the costs due to the event’s alignment with its ‘Women and Girls in Sport and Recreation’ strategy. We’ve raised another third through grants, commercial partnerships and philanthropy (there are too many wonderful partners to mention all here – please check them out on our website).

And finally, we’ve raised the rest through registrations, which we were thrilled to be able to keep as low as we did. We ran an equity strategy, which enabled band one world economies to help off-set costs for band three economies, which has meant, for example, we have a huge delegation from the Pacific.

LockerRoom: What’s been the biggest success so far?

Froggatt: There are so many, but I am going to pick out three.  

The first is our indigenous programme, which is a world-first for IWG. In partnership with our rōpū, He Wāhine toa kei to Kokiri, and our iwi partner, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, we have infused tikanga Māori and te reo into every aspect of IWG 2022 and included a special off-site at Ōrākei Marae to specifically work on the unique challenges that indigenous women and girls face in sport. This will be attended by wāhine and kōhine Maori, but also delegations from Canada, Australia and across the Pacific.

Adding tikanga Māori not only has assisted us when creating our event framework, but it has added a unique personality to the event that is purely Aotearoa New Zealand. For the many travelling participants, this will be the first time they’ve experienced anything like this and for us, it’s a way to proudly share our culture on the world stage. 

The IWG conference hopes to inspire change in New Zealand, and break down barriers for girls and women in sports. Photo: Unsplash/Jeffrey F Lin

The second is our sustainability programme, in partnership with John Turkington Forestry, Manawatū City Council and Feilding School. We are off-setting our international carbon footprint through the planting of a protected public reserve of native trees in the Manawatū, providing an enduring climate mitigation along with enhanced biodiversity and recreation benefits for the local community.

Third has to be the depth and breadth of our truly unique programme and the size and scale of our volunteer support. It’s been a huge collaborative effort from literally hundreds of people the world over, and a real coming together that will advance gender equity and equality in sport and physical activity. I really want to acknowledge the WISPA team for their extraordinary work pulling this together alongside our events agency the Conference Company – as we often say, small but mighty!

LockerRoom: What do you hope the IWG’s legacy will be here in New Zealand?

Froggatt: Our overall conference theme is ‘Change Inspires Change’. It’s always been our hope that IWG 2022 will drop a ‘knowledge bomb’ on the sport and recreation system across Aotearoa New Zealand and the world. So many of the barriers women and girls face come directly from unconscious bias, so the more we can share international case studies, research, toolboxes and insights around change, the more we can inspire change.

* The 8th IWG World Conference on Women & Sport will take place at Te Pokapū – the Aotea Centre and on a world class virtual system from November 14-17.

Rachel Froggatt is the CEO of Women in Sport Aotearoa (WISPA) and secretary general of the International Working Group (IWG) on Women and Sport Secretariat and Conference, 2018-22.

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