04 Sep EqualizeNZ

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – cover date 4.9.23


If you’d ask me this time last year for my thoughts on football, our conversation would have been limited to my enthusiasm for the TV show, Ted Lasso. Favourite team: AFC Richmond. Favourite player: Jamie Tartt.

Not a football aficionado, is what I’m saying. And yet by the time the semi-final was played at Eden Park in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, you could find me in the stands, screaming my heart out for Spain (I have a cousin who lives there, so picked them over Sweden) while proudly wearing a tournament scarf gifted to me by the Secretary General of FIFA, Fatma Samoura.

That’s quite the name-drop but I can explain. I spent this July and August tootling around the motu, helping to MC a series of speaker events called EqualizeNZ. Aimed at showcasing Aotearoa’s role in driving gender equity, these were free events starring all kinds of women in sport, in business, academia and the arts.

Some of them are already well-known – Theresa Gattung, Dame Farah Palmer, Dame Valerie Adams – and there were also young emerging stars like Arizona Leger and the YWCA’s Latayvia Tualasea Tautai whose names you will likely get to know more as the years go by.

Also, if you missed these events and wish you hadn’t, you can find video recordings of them all on the eyeson.nz website.

The grand finale of these shows was held in Auckland the day before the Spain vs Sweden semi-final match. Two thousand people packed into the Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre to hear Ruby Tui, Dame Jacinda Ardern, Natalie Portman and Fatma Samoura speak. I had the honour of being MC for the night.

It is one of the gigs that will live in my heart. On stage, it was a joy – an audience delighted to be there to hear stories of struggle, success and hope. Lots of laughter, buckets of wisdom, and an incredible opportunity to see all four women together in conversation with singer and documentary-maker Moana Maniapoto.

Back stage it was an endless stream of pinch-myself moments. Like sitting in the greenroom with Jacinda catching up on news since we’ve last seen each other, and then Natalie Portman arrived and – I kid you not – fangirled all over our ex-PM.

Natalie gifted Jacinda a personalised team shirt from her football club, Angel City, and then asked if it was ok to have a photo with her. It was an extraordinary thing to see – two remarkable women being thrilled to meet each other. And there’s me hanging out, still essentially a girl from Levin who got lucky, grinning from ear to ear and thinking, What a time to be alive.

And feeling that again the next night with a couple of gifted tickets to the fancy part of Eden Park stand, sitting right beside Michele Cox who played for the Football Ferns in the 1980s, and her mother Barbara who also represented NZ in the game. We introduced ourselves, took selfies and high-fived each other after every goal, no matter who scored it.

So I’ve learned a couple of things about football. Mostly about how the sport gives women and girls an opportunity to do extraordinary things, and how events like this can throw a spotlight on women doing extraordinary things in so many other areas.

Oh, and Phil Dunster, the actor who plays Jamie Tartt in Ted Lasso, was sitting just along from us. Wild right? Got a photo with him. He’s still my favourite player.