In her sporting career as a Silver Fern, Bernice Mene remembers being shuttled to and from stadiums in half-empty coaches or squeezing into a minibus driven by a senior player.
“We didn’t have a lot of choice in transport back in those days,” laughs Mene, a 78-test netball international, who’s now Head of People and Programmes at Hyundai New Zealand.
But turn the clock forward two decades, and the world’s best footballers assembled in New Zealand for the FIFA Women’s World Cup this month are travelling in style, comfort – and sustainability.
Hyundai New Zealand is providing a fleet of its vehicles – including cutting-edge electric models – to transport teams, officials, VIPs and guests to and from venues throughout Aotearoa.
It’s a logistical triumph to ferry everyone involved in this month-long tournament – the largest sporting event ever held on New Zealand’s shores (co-hosted with Australia) – smoothly, safely and on schedule.
Especially when you’re dealing with the 16 international teams based at seven sites on this side of the Tasman who need to be on time to trainings, games, media conferences, public appearances and airports. Not to mention efficiently moving the myriad match officials, visiting VIPs and the workforce running this tournament – the world’s biggest women’s sporting event.
“You’re dealing with all sorts of schedules – fixed deadlines with events, kick-offs and even meals for the athletes,” says Dave Beeche, the CEO of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023. “So delivering people around the host cities is absolutely critical to the smooth running of the event.”
It requires a fleet of 224 vehicles across New Zealand, with around 400 professional and volunteer drivers behind the wheel. And the co-operation of traffic networks in the four host cities – Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Dunedin.
“There’s a whole network of communication that sits in behind this tournament and we’re plugged into the traffic networks of all four cities to ensure the movements are as seamless as possible,” says Beeche.
And the vehicles carrying the star-studded cargo must be eco-friendly – which is why Hyundai’s fully-electric Ioniq 5 and hybrid Sante Fe models play a crucial role in the FIFA transport team. They’re a perfect fit with FIFA’s sustainability strategy for this massive tournament, Beeche says.
“With teams flying in from all over the world, you put in a lot of time and effort working out how you minimise carbon emissions and reduce our impact on the planet,” he says.
“All our stadiums across New Zealand and Australia are green building certified. And it was key Hyundai have been able to provide their electric and hybrid vehicles to help in our sustainability objectives.”
It also underscores the car company’s commitment to sustainable mobility – but that wasn’t all that drew Hyundai to this partnership. With a long history of supporting and promoting global sporting events, Hyundai says this FIFA Women’s World Cup serves as a testament to the shared values of empowering women, fostering inclusivity, and driving positive change on a global scale.
That’s something Mene is passionate about, too.
“Coming from a sporting background, I see this as a wonderful opportunity to showcase women’s sport and inclusivity,” she says. “Looking to the future, and the future of women’s football, is similar to what Hyundai are doing, being future-focused. Not only with the technological innovation in our electric vehicles, but with opportunities for young people, especially in role modelling.”
For the past nine years, Mene has run the Hyundai Pinnacle Programme, created to identify young Kiwis with potential and help them become the country’s next generation of leaders.
Among those in the current programme is Football Fern forward Gabi Rennie. The 22 year old from Rangiora, now playing and studying at Arizona State University, is making her Women’s World Cup debut on home soil.
“It’s been incredible to watch her rise in the sport,” Mene says. “Sport gives young women the self confidence and opportunities to perform, lead and work in a team. All of the skills translate to being an all-around successful person away from the field, too.
“We’ve had so many young women come through our leadership programme, and I can see a real correlation with the FIFA Women’s World Cup.”
Having played at two Netball World Cup tournaments, Mene knows the importance of getting the external factors right in a team’s preparation for a pinnacle event.
“As a sportsperson, you want everything to be seamless and timely, comfortable and flexible. As we always used to say, if you feel good, you look good in your uniform, you have good accommodation and transportation, that’s everything,” she says. “Then you can simply focus on what you need to do on the park.
“Treating the teams like VIPs, giving them our best vehicles to move around in, then they should feel exactly like that.”
* Hyundai is a partner of Newsroom.co.nz