Gender-neutral wharepaku at rugby clubs across motu

By Will Trafford

From left: Ava Collins (Football Fern) alongside Black Ferns and Auckland Storm players Eloise Blackwell, Patricia Maliepo and Aleisha-Pearl Nelson. / Supplied

Female and non-binary athletes will benefit from a push by NZ Rugby and Sport NZ to create gender-neutral, inclusive bathroom facilities at stadiums and rugby clubs across the motu.

Upgraded facilities timed to coincide with the women’s Rugby World Cup, playing later this year, and the FIFA Women’s World Cup (played in 2023) were unveiled with a karakia from Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei at the country’s national stadium, Eden Park, and at dozens of other stadiums and clubs across the motu this morning.

The $15.4 million funding for the project came from Sport NZ as part of the wider Sport Recovery Package announced by Minister of Sport and Recreation, Grant Robertson in May, 2020.

The new and improved facilities include individual showers, privacy screens, cubicle toilets, baby change tables and sanitary bins as standard, accessible bathrooms and gender-neutral changing rooms for both players and officials.

“The timing could not be better for the completion of this project just as Aotearoa welcomes the world’s best female athletes and officials. It’s a historic moment in time for women’s sport and it’s only fitting that we set a new precedent for how we cater to our wāhine in sport.” Rugby World Cup 2021 tournament director Michelle Hooper says.

“We are determined to put on a Rugby World Cup like no other and provide an experience these athletes and officials deserve. Part of that means providing facilities that reflect our values of equality and accessibility and we hope that will be replicated across all sports and all levels in time.”

Fit for purpose. gender-equal

Sport NZ worked alongside NZ Rugby, NZ Football and NZ Cricket (which had a preview of the new facilities during the Cricket World Cup held in March), along with stadiums and host cities, to ensure their facilities are fit for purpose for key international events, and to deliver gender-equal legacy benefits.

“Once the tournaments have left our shores, many of New Zealand’s stadium and community grounds and clubs will provide changing facilities that will offer security, space and privacy, importantly removing another barrier for participation by women and girls in community sport,” Sport NZ chief executive Raelene Castle said.

Black Ferns and Auckland Storm players Eloise Blackwell, Charmaine McMenamin, Aleisha-Pearl Nelson and Patricia Maliepo were on hand to check out the new digs, alongside former White Ferns and current Auckland Hearts cricketer Katie Perkins and Football Fern Ava Collins.

Eden Park chief executive Nick Sautner says the new facilities signal a historic shift for Aotearoa sports and venues.

“Eden Park is an iconic venue, revered for its reputation as host to some of the world’s most memorable sporting moments. To host three Women’s World Cups across two years is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, so it is only fitting that these elite female athletes experience the best Aotearoa has to offer – including fit-for-purpose facilities.

“The installation of these facilities at the Park represents a significant step forward in achieving gender equality for our female athletes and officials; we are delighted that they will be enjoyed by both current and future wāhine in sport.”

New facilities at 11 venues

Domestic and grassroots players will also benefit from the improvements, with $7.4 million of the funding package dedicated to 11 Auckland and Northland venues that will host the 12 Rugby World Cup 2021 teams.

The venues include the host stadiums Eden Park, Waitākere Stadium and Northland Events Centre, as well as training grounds Bruce Pulman Park, Bell Park, Orakei Domain, Gribblehirst Park, Hora Hora Rugby Union Football Club, Shore Road Reserve, Colin Maiden Park and Northland Rugby’s new facility at Pohe Island.

Rugby World Cup 2021 will be played from October 8 to November 12. Organisers are targeting a world record attendance at the triple-header opening match day on 8 October at Eden Park where the five-time Rugby World Cup-winning Black Ferns will take on Australia.

Eden Park will then create history by becoming the first stadium to host both the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cup finals on Saturday, November 12.