Many Kiwis watching the FIFA Women’s World Cup co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia this year were swept up for the first time by the high performance level, the worldwide media interest, and the sheer entertainment value of women’s football. Retired NZ football star Bex Smith has long been convinced that the women’s game has even more global potential than men’s football. Now living in London, Bex has built a second career beyond her personal sporting success. She has promoted women’s sport internationally as a FIFA executive, media producer and now through her global consultancy Crux Sports.
Rebecca Smith played for the Football Ferns for more than a decade, and was captain of the NZ national team for the Women’s World Cup 2007 and 2011, and at the 2012 Summer Olympics. In parallel, she played professionally in the US, Australia, Sweden and Germany, finishing her club career in 2013 winning the Triple UEFA Champions League, German League and German Cup with VfL Wolfsburg. At the same time, she completed degrees at universities in the US, Germany and New Zealand.
Growing up in Los Angeles, and working for many years in Europe, Bex says it’s the inspirational sporting culture of New Zealand that keeps her connected with her home country downunder: “I really feel very Kiwi when I watch any sort of New Zealand sport. New Zealand versus anyone! The vibe they have, the teamwork, the spirit of the team, the overall Kiwi culture of bringing people along and inspiring nations... I cheer pretty loudly - I cheer more like an American than a Kiwi to be fair!”, she laughs.
After her sporting retirement, Bex worked for almost five years supporting the women’s game internationally at FIFA in Switzerland. Seeking a change, she was attracted to London - the ancestral ‘home of football” - with its concentration of sporting networks. Unsure whether she wanted to stay in football or sports leadership at all, for more than half a year “I just went and had coffee with two or three hundred people, probably more actually. It costs you only three to five pounds but what people give you back in terms of advice, introductions and knowledge can be invaluable.”
After developing the partnership strategy for the Women’s World Cup 2019 at COPA90, Bex founded her consultancy Crux Sports in 2020. Crux helps brands understand how they can invest in women’s sport, by building engaging campaigns around women players and the storylines which are important to them. Bex says that top global brands still face challenges understanding how the women’s game is different from the men’s: ‘We need to celebrate those differences, rather than trying to copy-paste from the men’s game”. As Bex points out, the messaging around anti-discrimination, inclusion and diversity have all been fundamental pillars in building the women’s game.
Despite being “the number one participatory sport on the planet, one of the most easily accessible sports”, Bex is struck by the continuing lack of higher-level opportunities for people from outside the football Establishment in the UK, particularly “when there is just so much research about the diversity of leadership groups leading to stronger bottom lines, more revenue and just better, higher-performing teams”. Her egalitarian, meritocratic values are strongly rooted in her Kiwi upbringing, along with her deep-set reluctance to “toot my own horn”: although “I do wonder if that becomes a challenge for Kiwis in overtly competitive environments like London.”
During the recent World Cup, Bex provided live analysis for the BBC about the tournament’s significance for women’s sport. She is fiercely critical of how female athletes often don’t receive optimal medical support, as well as frustrated by the poor management of international media rights and promotion. In her view, the lack of female perspectives on governance and investment bodies skews decision-making away from the women’s game. Despite limited investments by national federations in managing player pathways, recruitment and coaching, Bex believes women’s football is an important site and symbol of female empowerment globally. The worldwide outcry unleashed by the harassment of winning Spanish footballer, Jenni Hermoso, who was kissed without her consent during the World Cup final awards ceremony, signalled the public’s rejection of “how so many of these federations are run by men who feel that they can have this kind of control and power over women and their bodies.” Bex felt immense pride “to see the whole world stand up and say, ‘Actually, no. This is very very wrong”, confirming her belief that women’s football can actually spearhead important cultural change.