From today, clubs across New Zealand get back access to their facilities after handing their keys over to top teams from around the world for the Fifa Women’s World Cup for the last month.
Clubs across the country hosted some of the world’s best teams such as USA, Sweden, Portugal the Netherlands and the Football Ferns. And the opportunity to do so, and get upgrades in the process was game-changing for the local clubs.
In order to host these teams the clubs needed to apply and then reach certain criteria. To help facilitate that, the Government invested $55 million for hosting the tournament, which included $25m for upgrading 30 match and training venues and related facilities and $10m to leverage the tournament to create lasting benefits.
Sport and Recreation Minister Grant Robertson said in a statement last year: “These upgrades are critical to ensure the success of the tournament, but will also benefit local communities, football clubs and many different sporting codes that use these facilities, which is another great reason to invest in them.
“They will also put us in a stronger position when bidding to host major international events in the future.”
During the week leading up to the World Cup, the Herald got an exclusive look at the upgrades. Club members reflected on the opportunity to be involved in the tournament to this extent – which for some has helped along 20-year infrastructure plans.
“It’s tingling in the stomach really,” said Leif Rennell, of Auckland United – who hosted the Football Ferns for the tournament.
“We’ve got a new sand surface, we’ve got irrigation and we’ve got floodlights. You know it’s always been nice, but it really, really looks sharp now,” Rennell said.
David Williams, president of Birkenhead United, said they loved hosting Italy even if it meant shutting its doors to its members
“It’s short-term pain for a long-term gain.”
“We’ve been able to modernise, but we’ve also been able to create a facility that, that is more reflective of today and, and the community into the future. We’ve been able to create spaces that are not necessarily just football spaces, that can be agile and fit whatever the community wants to do in them,” Williams said.
Mohammed Imran, the president of Māngere United – home to Portugal – said it was really special to be a club in the middle of south Auckland with this opportunity.
“It’s amazing that we will have the Portuguese here with these tournaments allowing us to have lights and all the beautiful upgrades.
“Our vision is that post the World Cup, we can create a women’s hub here and try and make it a special day for our women footballers,” Imran said.
Ellerslie, hosting Argentina, was one of the clubs whose facility upgrades were in the works for roughly two decades. Hollie Leona, the operations manager, was relieved to finally reach completion after receiving the funding.
“There’s been so many people at the club that have been really driving this and wanting this to happen, so to get that over the line has been awesome.”
Santha Brown, the host city lead for the Fifa Women’s World Cup said it had been a huge effort to get the venues up to scratch for the teams.
“We were working really closely with the clubs [and countries] for many months to make sure that all the sort of Fifa requirements are met, but also those gender-neutral outcomes as well.”
A total of $5m of the funds was specifically for gender-neutral changing room upgrades at some of the locations, which Robertson said was an excellent example of how Government investment in major events could drive positive, long-term change.
This means the entire changing rooms including showers and bathrooms don’t display labels and can be used by a person of any gender or gender identity.
In documents obtained by the Herald, it states that clubs who received specific funding like this needed to commit to gender objectives, including 50 per cent female representation on governance committees and governance representation that aligns with community diversity.
Fred de Jong, Ellerslie’s director of football, said the gender-neutral upgrades simply added to what was already a great facility.
“I mean, if you look back at our old changing rooms, I think there were some of the worst in Auckland, and now we’ve got eight big changing rooms and we can split them, across gender lines.
“People can move around the facility much freer,” De Jong said.
Williams said the gender-neutral requirements informed their design process.
“It was important for us to make sure that we could create spaces that were safe and secure for people. The world isn’t what it was 20 years ago.
“We need to be thinking about today as well as the future.”