There was a moment during the 2012 London Olympics when the Football Ferns had the country's attention. They were through to the quarter-finals for the first time ever.
We cheered them on. We tuned in - probably for the first time in our lives - to watch a game of women's football.

Of course, the story ends with the Ferns beaten by a much higher-ranked team and the rest of us promptly forgetting all the hopes we had for that squad of women.

Since then, things haven't gone their way. The team didn't do nearly as well at the 2016 Rio Olympics and have had their high-performance funding budget virtually halved.
Then this week, captain Abby Erceg resigned. It's not that her body's packing in - she's only 27 - but she can't afford to keep playing for New Zealand on the dismal financial support she and her teammates are given.

She rightly points out it's wrong to expect them to turn up to training daily like professional athletes, yet not pay them for being there. She told of running out of petrol on her way home because she couldn't afford to fill up her car.


It seems Erceg and the Ferns are the victims of a combination of factors. They're suffering from the cut-throat way we fund Olympic sports. If they perform, they get money and support such as gym membership. If they bomb as they did at Rio, the budget is slashed.
But, probably more importantly, they're women playing sport and there seems little we care about less than women playing sport.

You'll be aware the South African men's cricket team are touring here, but did you know our women's cricket team have also been playing? This week they thumped the Australians, taking a massive five wickets for nine runs. We would've been so proud had we been watching.

What's more, the Ferns have fallen in love with a sport New Zealand doesn't love as much. We don't play football so we don't watch it. And because few of us tune in, TV doesn't screen the games, which means the sport doesn't earn much broadcast revenue and the largely anonymous players attract few lucrative sponsorship deals.

Short of throwing vast sums of taxpayer dollars at minor sports, it seems the only way to help these women is to get us watching their games.

The sports bosses need to start getting creative.

They might want to try making stars out of their players.

We should be so caught up in the players' individual stories that we absolutely have to watch the game to see what happens next, in the same way we just had to tune in to see if Sonny Bill Williams could make the switch from League to Union.

A year ago, virtually none of us knew the name Liam Malone. The Nelson paralympian became a star during last year's games by cracking jokes on a UK TV show. The viewers in the UK fell in love with him and so did New Zealand. Now he's presenting awards at the Vodafone Music Awards, has 13,000 followers on Instagram and regularly appears on television shows here and in the UK.


And I guarantee we'll be interested in Malone's races at the Paralympics in 2020.
Football New Zealand and the bosses of every other minor sport and women's team in New Zealand could learn from Liam, because it'd be a pity for us to continue being such fickle fans of teams like the Football Ferns.