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A letter from our VP on the FIFA WWC

A triumph not only over some of the best teams in the world but also obstacles and prejudices. A squad of talented players who had the nation in the palm of their hands, who are not yet the best football team in the world but who have changed the prospects for the next generation of Matildas forever. In a sport rightly known as the global game, to be the best on the planet is special indeed. This is the ninth Women’s World Cup tournament and victory would have been the Matildas first. That England and Spain played the World Cup final, both vying for their first win in this tournament demonstrates that the Matildas were in good company. So, we didn’t win it, but there are ample reasons to celebrate across the nation for what this team have achieved on and off the park. The significance is far beyond winning games. It is the joy that the Matildas have spread. It is about celebrating what is rising out of decades of neglect; it is marking the growing professionalism and quality of women’s football; and it is bringing belated recognition and support to women’s sport in the widest sense.

Image: New Zealand international Rebekah Stott with former BSC star and current BSC coach, Lucy Allison, following New Zealand's first ever World Cup win at Eden Park.

A women’s football World Cup did not even exist until 1999. Broadcasters in Australia have chosen not to show many of the previous Matildas matches. Yet the Matildas victory over France and their game versus England attracted record TV audiences that surpassed even the broadcasters’ wildest expectations. And sponsors and advertisers couldn’t get enough of the team or the players. It is the sporting story of our decade - the advance of women’s sport. More people were watching it, promoting it, seeing its potential and taking it seriously. Sporting bodies are scrambling to find more resources and the pollies are falling over themselves to get a slice of the action. We need not waste time arguing about whether women’s sport has had an outrageously raw deal since the first Olympics in 776BC, which, inevitably, was men only. When we consider how little was put into women’s sport for so long and that women were banned from playing football for 50 years does anyone still need educating about fair opportunities? Thankfully, attitudes change all the time, potential is realised and the Matildas on their quest for glory attracted the biggest TV audiences of the year. Millions watched to delight in as talented women from all corners of our land demonstrated they are elite athletes, shaping their destiny on the grandest stage to showcase their potential. Many have been drawn to this World Cup for its different strengths. They love that it is fiercely competitive yet seems a less angry version, on and off the pitch. Minds are being opened, converts made, fresh joys and new stars are found. Crowds gather in bars and pubs across this wide land, in the heart of footy and rugby territory, to collectively cheers our Matildas. There are still naysayers who seek every opportunity to knock football and women in sport. Like dinosaurs, they will disappear. The landscape has changed. There were no female role models in football when our Matildas were growing up but the girls of today have their heroines. As the Beauy hoodies proclaim loud and proud – Anyone can be a Matilda!More importantly, many girls now want to be a Matilda! The Matildas are rightly benefiting from the growing professionalism that finally spreads across the game, although we should remind ourselves that it is recent. There are few academies for the best girls and there is still a gulf between the resources of a few top clubs and the grassroots. The trajectory is upward and success for the Matildas is a turbocharge. There was a 15% increase in female youth teams from June to December last year; a 21% increase in female registered referees across all levels since October 2021; and in the UK Women’s Super League attendances were up 227% on last season and that was before the World Cup. Importantly, only 20% of fans paying to watch the women’s professional game also pay to watch the men’s game, so this is a new audience for football. Yet few senior schools offer girls the same access to football as they do boys. Football Australia have announced a commitment to gender parity in participation yet until there is equal access to all sports in schools for girls, and sufficient playing facilities for girls to train and play on, this is just words. Only 3 years ago our women and girls had to change in the car park at Beaumaris and could not shower after the game. My wife and daughter never got to enjoy the pavilion that 11 years of lobbying finally persuaded (shamed) Bayside City Council into providing at Beaumaris Reserve. And despite the overwhelming evidence that team sport is key to the mental and physical wellbeing of our children, Council continue to urge Beauy to turn kids away who want to play as they will not provide the facilities and space to enable girls to play. And this despite Council encouraging an ever-greater population and planning for greater housing density across the Bayside area for years to come. We cannot know what women’s football would look like today if it had the long history of investment and professionalism that the men’s game has enjoyed for more than a century. However, with every World Cup bigger than the last we are belatedly finding out. It is a fascinating journey and even more wonderful because the Matildas are at the vanguard of showing what is possible. Now, for communities, schools and Councils to embrace this beautiful game and to enable the next generation of Matildas to pull off the historic victory we now know is before us. Dave Richards VP BSC


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