Did we ever expect the FIFA Women’s World Cup to be this big?

Record-breaking crowds and more than 665,000 tickets sold to 28 matches hosted in four cities across the country.

About a third of us have tuned into the games on television.

It’s the biggest sporting event New Zealand’s ever hosted and tonight’s semi-final between Spain and Sweden at Auckland’s Eden Park is the final game of the tournament to be played on this side of the Tasman.

Auckland Tātaki Unlimited host city programme director Santha Brown says despite ticket sales lagging ahead of the World Cup, she was optimistic people would get behind it.

“We knew that New Zealanders were late purchasers and that once the momentum of the tournament got underway that New Zealanders would really get behind it and that would convert like it has done in terms of ticket sales,” she tells The Detail.

The opening match between the Football Ferns and Norway attracted a record crowd.

“That was a new record for football of any gender and that was then passed just 12 days later for the USA versus Portugal [match in] the round of 16. [It was] the highest attendance numbers for a football game yet at 43,217.”

RNZ’s First Up host and morning sports presenter Nathan Rarere says we can be a bit slow to get into big sporting events.

“When we go to sports, I think as a nation, rather than cheering our teams on from before the game and at the start and imploring them to great things, New Zealanders sit back with their arms folded and go ‘Come on, impress me’… so for [the Football Ferns] to get that opening win over Norway, out came the bandwagon and we were on it.” 

But Rarere says not everyone has got on the bandwagon.

“My wife, she’s like ‘I’ll try and watch it’, she’s like ‘Not enough happens in football’. And I’ve asked my daughter – she’s 15 and I said ‘At your school, has it made a big impact – do you notice more kids playing football?’

“And she goes, ‘No, no one hates it or anything, it’s just there hasn’t been a pick up’.

“I know at the primary school, I asked our other daughter ‘Are you seeing a lot more kids playing football’? She went ‘Not really more than normal, but they are still playing it’.” 

Alida Shanks, a sports equity expert who’s working on promoting the game in Waikato and Bay of Plenty, says while most people are positive about the World Cup, negative perceptions across football clubs still linger.

That was evident in some responses to a recent survey about what people would like to see as a legacy from the World Cup.

“There were a few people who were just triggered even just by asking what kind of gender they were, which is a normal question in a survey. 

“I think they’ll just get left behind … 90 percent of people we talked to for this survey said they wanted their club to have a women and girls strategy and they wanted a focus on gender equity and they wanted the right kit … those that want to do that should do it.”

But Shanks says those “old tropes” about no one watching women’s sport, or that it’s not exciting, just aren’t true anymore.

“I just think this World Cup has showed that … people do watch women’s football, they do watch women’s sport, it’s been very exciting and just having everyone getting in behind the World Cup has just smashed all that out of the water.”

Hear more about how the World Cup’s got more of us into women’s football in the full podcast episode.

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