Thirty-two teams, tens of thousands of spectators, more than two billion people watching all over the world – New Zealand has never experienced the likes of it.

The Fifa Women’s World Cup will be hosted by New Zealand and Australia in July and August.

“It’s the first time it’s been played in the southern hemisphere,” RNZ sports journalist Barry Guy tells The Detail.

“New Zealand has a lot of pool games, a couple of the playoff games and then the big games – the deciders – are being played in the big stadiums in Australia.

“The competition is outstanding…the USA are the defending champions, Canada are the Olympic champions, so there are a lot of quality players and teams that are coming.”

One of the benefits of hosting the tournament is many of the football clubs and grounds that’ll be used by visiting teams for training are getting upgrades.

“Fifa is paying for all of the grounds to be a certain standard and all the facilities at these grounds to be suitable for these teams. There are lights being put in at some of these training grounds and all of the facilities and the stands are being upgraded as well,” Guy says.

On Auckland’s North Shore, the Birkenhead United AFC is getting a huge upgrade to host Italy.

President David Williams especially wants to promote the brand new changing rooms.

Before, there were only home and visitors changing rooms, with communal showers at the back.

Now, that’s all going to change.

“What we’ve done with the new facilities is we’ve doubled the number of changing rooms, so we’ve got four changing rooms plus an officials room, accessible toilets and a medical room. There are 17 individual showers and there are obviously individual toilets there as well.”

David Williams is the president of Birkenhead United AFC. Photo: The Detail/Tom Kitchin

The $2.6 million project is being funded through multiple sources, such as Fifa, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and Auckland Council.

“We were visited by a large number of teams who had games in Auckland and games out of Auckland. Italy visited us and they were really keen, they really liked the space – probably didn’t hurt that we’ve got about four or five Italian members of our football club and a couple of them are coaches!”

Williams says women’s football at the club is a “work in progress”, but he believes the World Cup will be “transformational” for it.

“There will be a whole lot of girls and women who are introduced to the sport, want to engage with the sport and then how do we do that? How can we make sure we can provide a real opportunity for people to come and try it out and see whether they like or not, not just as a physical activity but also something that can support them socially?”

Alida Shanks has done a PhD on gender diversity and inclusion in community football across Aotearoa. She will be helping teams in Waikato and Bay of Plenty bring more girls into the game during the World Cup.

She says a ban on international woman playing football for about 50 years, from 1921 to the 1970s, hasn’t helped the women’s game develop.

“It started in England … women’s football was really popular both in England and in Aotearoa. I’m not sure if there was a little bit of jealousy, because the games were getting huge crowds – bigger than the men’s teams, but there were also a lot of social and cultural things going on with where women should be, and if it was too dangerous for our fragile bodies to be playing football.

“We think that women still kept playing football, but because of this official ban, they’ve disappeared from the history books.

“I think we’re just catching up, in terms of resources and if women had been playing football all those years, I think we’d be in a much different space now – much more equitable to the men’s game.” 

She says booming popularity of women’s rugby should help the conversations when it comes to football.

“I feel like we can do that for football … I’d really like to see more focus on the organisations and clubs, so what can our clubs do, what can our organisations do? We often talk about wanting to encourage women and girls and people to fall in love with football and stay in love with football, but how can football show that they love our women and girls back?”

Hear more about what the World Cup is bringing to New Zealand shores in the full podcast episode.

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