Image: The Black Ferns performing a Haka / saintmalojmgsports / Flickr
Believe it or not, Aotearoa's most successful rugby team is not the All Blacks.
Seriously, it’s true. While the All Blacks' dominance makes them one of the most successful sports teams ever, even their incredible success falls short of that of the Black Ferns, New Zealand’s women’s national rugby union team.
While the All Blacks’ three Rugby World Cup titles is of course a record for men, consider this: the Black Ferns have won four Women’s Rugby World Cup championships – and all in a row. Overall, they’ve won about 90 per cent of their matches – an even higher winning percentage than the All Blacks. Oh, and they also haven’t lost in three years.
The question is, why aren’t more people talking about how dominant the Black Ferns are? Almost everyone knows who Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Israel Dagg, Aaron Smith and Waisake Naholo are. But who knows about Renee Wickliffe, Emma Jensen, Kelly Brazier, Anna Richards and Sarah Goss? Chances are, not many.
Sadly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the lack of exposure for one of the winningest sports teams in the world. Scan the newspapers, listen to the radio, or browse the websites of any of our major media outlets, and you’ll find almost wall-to-wall coverage if an All Black so much as stubs his toe or has mild indigestion. But good luck trying to find anything about the Black Ferns on most days. In fact, even a Google search for “Black Ferns” doesn’t turn up much even compared to a men’s provincial rugby team.
So why aren’t our incredible sportswomen getting the attention they deserve for their accomplishments? Some would say it's because sporting events featuring women don’t get the same TV ratings as events with men do, or that not as many people want to pay for tickets to sporting events where the competitors happen to be female.
But that’s not always true. For instance, in Portland, Oregon, the Portland Thorns of the National Women’s Soccer League usually sell-out their 21,144-seat stadium – and average roughly the same attendance as the Portland Timbers, the men’s Major League Soccer team that also plays in the same stadium. Local media also gives the two teams a similar amount of coverage, even though the MLS gets far higher TV ratings overall than the NWSL.
Other people might say that female athletes are not as “good” as male athletes. They’d argue that the Black Ferns would get crushed if they ever played against the All Blacks, and thus aren’t “worthy” of having as much attention paid to them.
This is the main problem: why do we always have to belittle the accomplishments of women athletes and women’s sports teams by comparing them to men? If the Black Ferns have only lost once since 2012 – and not at all since 2014 – can’t we just appreciate that for how amazing it is? Or if Dame Valerie Adams throws the shot put a record 21.24 metres (as she did at the 2011 World Championships), why can’t we be awed by her incredible talent without speculating how far she could throw it if she were a man?
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with supporting the All Blacks. But let’s not forget that our female athletes are just as impressive, too – and are more than “worthy” of our full support.
Oh, and just for kicks, if people do want to compare how female and male athletes would fare if they competed against each other, chew on this: in individual dressage, an equestrian event in which women and men compete directly against each other, women have swept the medal table in every Olympics since 2000; the last time a man won gold was in 1984. Or watch a re-run of the famed Battle of the Sexes tennis showdown. Spoiler: a woman (Billie-Jean King) wins.