New Zealand’s former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was moved to tears by the country’s women’s soccer team at this year’s World Cup.
Ardern told CNN’s Amanda Davies Monday that she cried while watching the opening match, where tournament co-hosts New Zealand beat Norway, securing the team’s first ever World Cup win.
“That opening match, I felt slightly ridiculous because at the end of that game I started to cry and I did not stop crying for quite some time,” Ardern said.
That July 20 game was a pivotal moment for the Football Ferns, as New Zealand’s women’s soccer team are known.
After their historic win, Ferns coach Jitka Klimkova told reporters, “I believe the performance and the result [will] keep inspiring the nation.”
“If we will have this crowd behind us every time we step on the field, that’s what we need. We need this kind of push,” she said.
“The fans for us are so important. I want to thank to them for coming and supporting us. I hope they will keep coming and the love for football will just grow in this country.”
Though New Zealand is known more for its rugby than soccer, the Ferns hope the tournament will spark a women’s soccer revolution in their home country.
Ardern, who was involved in bringing the tournament to New Zealand while Prime Minister, said she was “incredibly proud” to see it come to fruition.
“New Zealand has just embraced this competition. You make a bid and then you hand it over to the country and just let the country do what it does so well and that is host people and look after people. And what a magnificent job New Zealand has done,” she said.
Ardern’s comments came at the final event for “Equalize,” a discussion series on equity for women hosted in New Zealand during the World Cup.
Ardern said she spoke to the players after the opening match about the bigger role they’re playing for women’s sports in the country.
“I just said to them, you cannot know in this moment in time the impact that you’ve had for the game and for women and girls in sport in New Zealand. It’s just incredible,” Ardern said. “They’re part of a revolution and what a revolution it is.”
When Ardern became prime minister in 2017 at the age of 37 she was New Zealand’s third female leader and one of the youngest leaders in the world. Within a year, she had become only the second world leader to give birth in office.
She stepped down as prime minister at the start of this year with a sudden resignation that surprised many, arguing she felt she had “no more in the tank” to fight a re-election campaign.
During her time in office she gained a reputation for being open about her emotions, especially following the 2019 Christchurch terror attack – which killed 51 people at two mosques – and a deadly volcanic explosion.
Ardern quickly became a progressive global icon, remembered for her empathy. Though at home, her popularity ebbed amid the rising cost of living, housing shortages and economic anxiety.
During the pandemic, her government opted for a tough zero-Covid strategy that won the health care system time but became increasingly unpopular as the economy struggled.
In a swansong speech, she was unapologetic about being an openly emotional leader.
“You can be anxious, sensitive, kind, and wear your heart on your sleeve, you can be a mother or not, you can be an ex-Mormon or not, you can be a nerd, a crier, a hugger – you can be all of these things,” she said.