New Zealand will play host to three women's World Cups – cricket, rugby and football - over the next 18 months in a period dubbed a watershed moment for female sport in this country.
Getting to this point has not been easy, with cricket and rugby postponing their World Cups by a year due to the global pandemic, but the enforced compression has momentum building for the combined push to significantly shift the dial on participation and perceptions of women's sport.
This week, as Auckland emerges from lockdown, the big three gathered at Eden Park to project their respective visions. Liam Napier went along to catch up with the female leaders hoping to leave an historic mark.
Cricket World Cup (March 4 – April 3, 2022)
7 teams, 31 games
Six host cities
Opening game: Bay Oval, Tauranga
Final: Hagley Park, Christchurch
Interview: Andrea Nelson, chief executive CWC
Q. How are the nerves 13 weeks out from the first ball?
A. When we were postponed we felt really low about it at first but, actually, it was a gift to us. It gave us an extra year to make the event bigger and better but also to prepare. We have a vision to own the moment and lead the change, but it turns out the moment we're owning is the reopening of New Zealand to the world and the change we're leading is major events into this environment.
It's been a lot of work but overall the buy in we've had from NZ Cricket, the ICC, NZ government, everyone wants this to be successful. I wouldn't say it's been easy or there's been early nights but the pay off when we see the stadium full next year will be worth it.
Q. Is New Zealand's seven-day isolation stipulations a challenge? Have you experienced any hesitancy from competing teams?
A. We've been talking to the teams throughout. They know what they're going to be asked to do and they're Okay with it. We're focused on getting them prepared as best as possible. It's great we've got a warm-up week in Christchurch where everyone plays each other so that's a great chance for everyone to get some game play in.
Q. I hear corporate hospitality is sold out at six games – that must be encouraging?
A. We've been heartened. The corporate interest is much more than we anticipated. General sales are going really well too – it's not even summer yet and we're selling tickets so it's a great sign.
Q. How much do you feel the success and interest in the tournament will be influenced by the White Ferns' results?
A. We're hosting the event for all the teams. It's a great opportunity for the White Ferns to play on home turf. We're hoping they get into the end of the tournament. I wouldn't say the success of the tournament relies on it, but we're backing them to get there. Success is coming to support the teams. That's how we show the world New Zealand supports women's sport – and tickets are $5 for kids and $15 for adults so it's cheap as chips.
Q. Games are being played at six quality venues. Was it always the plan to spread the tournament across the country?
A. It was really important to us. To be a global event and to showcase New Zealand, you really had to be national. If we're trying to inspire a generation of people to think about women's cricket differently, giving them a chance to see it is a pretty good start.
We're creating amazing in stadium experiences for families with the free childcare offer and we've got more announcements coming. We wanted to bring that to everyone's backyards. If you're in Dunedin, Auckland, Hamilton you can get to the games.
Q. What are your attendance expectations?
A. We want to see every stadium looking full, and there's no reason why it wouldn't be. We've got 31 great matches; we've got experiences beyond the sport itself. We want to see the grass banks chocker.
Q. It's all coming to a head now, with the first teams arriving in January. What are the emotions having had to wait this long?
A. We're excited to be on the home stretch. It's been a lot of contingency planning and now we're at the pointy end of it. As an event professional that's what you live for. I can't wait to make it happen next year.
Q. Bangladesh, Pakistan and the West Indies have been confirmed as the final three teams. The White Ferns will play the opening match at the Bay Park Oval. When will the full schedule be revealed?
The full draw will be announced in the next couple of weeks but the White Ferns will be playing one of those qualifying teams in the opening match.
Rugby World Cup (October 8 – November 12, 2022)
Held in Auckland and Northland
12 teams, 26 games
10 match days over five weekends
Opening game and final: Eden Park
Interview: Michelle Hooper, tournament director RWC 2021
Q. How difficult has it been organising a global tournament in a global pandemic?
A. Probably about as simple as playing women's sport in a male dominated world. I'm the kind of person who thrives on a challenge so when things change and you've got to find solutions that's my speciality. We're very lucky we've got major event funding and support from the government. It's been very difficult for sports without that. That gives you the strength to work through the agreed path. We've got a small enough tournament that we can be quite agile so we can move quickly. If you had much bigger event, it would be extremely difficult.
Q. You are aiming to break the world record attendance for a women's rugby match (20,000 in France) by hosting a sell-out crowd for the opening day triple header at Eden Park that features South Africa v France, England v Fiji and culminates with New Zealand v Australia. How confident are you of achieving that feat?
A. It's a fantastic line up of teams. If you're thinking of watching the heavy hitters you've got all of them on day one. You can arrive at the start of the day and there will be festival entertainment. We want that to be the day that sets the scene for the rest of the tournament in terms of expectations. We have kids' tickets from $5, adults from as little as $10 depending on where you are. This is a tournament for everybody. It's a full day of entertainment.
Q. The tournament is based solely in Auckland and Northland. Is that a missed opportunity? Why not take it around the country?
A. When I came on board all of that had been prior agreed. The pitch New Zealand made was to supercharge the game both domestically and globally. To do that you need to do as much as you can with your money. At the time, the budgets were set at a certain level and they thought they could do a much better job if you didn't have the flights and moving teams around because that brings a lot of extra costs.
Auckland and Northland is compact and compelling. If you had time to do it again ideally it would be fabulous to take it to both Islands and spread it wide but maybe we can bid for it in future and do it again and we can take it to seven or 12 cities.
Q. During the pandemic it has proven difficult, in some cases impossible, to bring test rugby teams into New Zealand. Do you expect any nations to have issues with New Zealand's Covid protocols?
A. None at all. They are hungry to play and get here for this World Cup. There was massive disappointment when it was postponed. These teams are well accustomed to Covid protocols.
Q. The last World Cup in Ireland was staged on university campuses with teams staying in the same hostels. From what I can gather there will be major shifts around facilities and accommodation for this tournament?
A. When we talk to the players their wants and needs are different to the men. It's about listening and creating high performance environments where they can excel. They need to be helped rather than have deterrents. If you're in a university hostel, as they were in 2017 with their opposition they were playing that week, that's not an ideal environment. If you can remove that it gives them a much clearer head. I'm proud we've been able to do that.
Q. The Black Ferns endured a horror recent northern tour, losing all four tests against England and France by record margins. Since returning home there has then been the fallout from the allegations against head coach Glenn Moore. Are you worried about how the team might fare next year?
A. The impacts we saw on the northern tour were the global pandemic and the Black Ferns not getting to play for two years. England played 14 games in that time. I've heard what's been said internally from the experts in terms of how we are looking. There's some great insights into the young players coming through, the skill level and talent. There's a lot of time to make the tweaks they've talked about as making the difference.
You can't forget this is a team with a deep history of success. I'm very confident they will be doing everything to be at their best. The No 1 thing for me is New Zealand needs to get out and support our team because we saw packed stadiums in England and France. To be part of history you've got to join us.
Football World Cup (July 20 – August 20, 2023)
Held in New Zealand and Australia
32 teams, 64 matches (29 in NZ – five knockout games)
Nine host cities, including Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin, Hamilton
Opening game: Eden Park
Final: Stadium Australia (Sydney)
Interview: Jane Patterson, chief executive officer Fifa WWC
Q. You are third off the rank with these major events, is that a beneficial position to be in given the landscape we're living in?
A. It sure is. We're working really closely with Andrea and Michelle from cricket and rugby so we've got a chance to share lessons. Cricket is being tested by the Covid environment so there's the chance for us to observe that. It also gives us time. One thing we know about Covid is you've got to be ready for all eventualities because it seems to be forever changing so to be in July, 2023, it gives us more runway.
Q. Ticket sales at the 2019 World Cup in France totalled 1.1 million and broadcast viewership is said to be 1.2 billion. Using that event as a gauge, do you expect those figures to increase for this tournament?
A. Absolutely we want to grow that audience in games and also capture the hearts and minds of the global audience as well. In 2019 it was a 24-team tournament. Now with the growth to 32 we've got the chance to have a wider reach of markets and hopefully attract New Zealanders to watch on the basis it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the single largest women's sporting event in the world hosted down under. It's certainly our goal to take 2019 and propel forward.
Q. When will you go to market for tickets and what price range are you looking at for New Zealand games?
A. We are not quite at that stage in our preparation. It's a little early for us. We're starting the research but we haven't captured the details in terms of timeframes of sales and price range.
Q. This is the first time the women's World Cup will be co-hosted. How did that come about, and are there logistical challenges moving teams between New Zealand and Australia?
A. For a tournament of this size co-hosting is a fantastic result because New Zealand couldn't have hosted this event on its own. We needed Australia in terms of the number of venues; the size of the stadiums that are required for the final. In this instance the two countries coming together and finding a way to co-host has meant we can bring it to this part of the world.
Co-hosted tournaments will always bring a level of operational challenge, particularly as we work through the current climate. We haven't been able to go to Australia yet and meet with our Australian colleagues. We're doing everything virtually. There's been challenges but nothing that's insurmountable. We're keen to ensure we host a tournament seamless in its delivery and the experience for the teams both on and off the pitch as though it's as one.
Q. The Football Ferns are yet to win a World Cup game after attending five tournaments. What are your hopes and expectations for the team in a home event?
A. We know in high performance sport there is a certain amount of home advantage that comes when you're playing in familiar stadiums, in-front of crowds you know. We can set the scene for the Football Ferns in that way. They've got a new coach; they've got the chance to progress their development between now and then. I feel the World Cup will be a great success no matter what because it's so unique to host an event of this size and scale, but it will take it to another place if we can see the Football Ferns progress into the knockout stages.
Q. Do you expect there to be strong attendance across all games? What is your sense of where football is at in New Zealand compared to cricket and rugby?
A. Where it's at and where it could go as a result of hosting this tournament is a big part of why New Zealand and Australia came together. This is a chance to host something that is the catalyst to supercharge participation and growth of the game. We're putting the magnifying glass on girls and women to want to give it a go. We want to increase the numbers involved in playing, administration, refereeing, volunteering. Growth of the sport overall is a big part of the legacy we want to leave.