Ruby Tui and the Black Ferns remind us that while we have come a long way in our celebration of women athletes, there is still some way to go

Comment: A few weeks ago, I stood in a crowded pub with tears in my eyes watching the opening match of the Women’s Rugby World Cup.

It was not because I’d had too many beers, or someone had elbowed me in a soft spot.

Those tears were a measure of how far we have come in our attitudes towards women and sport. That thousands of people were at Eden Park watching women play sport and that hundreds more were packed into pubs as well.

Many decades ago, I played competitive netball. At my average decile, average state school in an average suburb it was clear that the only sport that mattered was the First Fifteen.

On reflection, I just accepted that regardless of sporting achievements of our netball team, we would pale in comparison to the mob of teenage boys running around a muddy field.

I can remember Mum buying me and my brother a 50-cent mixture on winter Saturday afternoons and us all settling down to watch the All Blacks on the telly.

I can’t recall any such ceremony around any women’s sport.

So that’s why there were tears. Women’s sport was getting the prominence it deserves.

But its more than that. We Kiwis love a hero, particularly a humble one who has triumphed over adversity. Often those heroes have been good, keen blokes.

So there were tears again when I watched the brilliant Dame Valerie doco More than Gold and finished Ruby Tui’s also brilliant book Straight Up.

What we have here are two Kiwi heroes who are redefining what a hero looks like and inviting a new generation of girls and young women (and boys and young men) to aspire to sporting greatness.

There is a scene in More than Gold when Dame Val and her manager are discussing social media comments she received as she is about to depart for Tokyo and leave her two children. The comments are questioning how fit she is to be a mother.

Astutely Dame Val comments that no father is likely to have been subjected to such vitriol. In doing so, she reminds us that while we have come a long way in our celebration of women athletes, there is still some way to go.

Ruby Tui’s honesty about how she and her teammates were treated by New Zealand Rugby in contract negotiations is brave – the stuff of heroes. How she felt dismissed as “just another woman crying about pay”.

That chapter and the recent scheduling behaviour of New Zealand Rugby leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

As we celebrate the success of the Rugby World Cup and look forward to being inundated with women’s football next year, let’s hope this current flurry of excitement about women’s sport is sustained.

Because in Ruby’s words “we’ve actually all just changed history. Let’s frickin’ go. Straight up.”

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