By Rose Cunningham
I had never watched soccer in my life- until a familiar green and gold uniform was set against a sea of bright greens and a crowd of screaming fans. The nights when my family (and rabbits), much like many households across the nation, were up late, eyes fixed on the television, dinner bowls being moved quickly as injury time occurred. Living rooms were filled with an air of anticipation and excitement- we all wanted the “Tilly’s” to bring in another win. As we all watched the final whistle blow in their match against England, a massive change had already occurred. It had occurred on our grassroots sports teams, in our homes and in schools around the country, but what surprised some people was the fact that the Matildas had not just changed the attitudes of women as they did up their runners, but also the men on the sidelines- or the men who would now be on the sidelines for good, not just for the men’s league, but for the women's league as well. The Matildas are at the forefront of a new era of women's sports but there is still some work to be done.
We all know that the Matildas have rocketed into the hearts and minds of Australians just as fast as Courtyney Vine’s winning penalty goal against France, and this is evident in the growth of viewership on our TVs and the increase in the number of replica jerseys being demanded. Over 11.5 million people tuned in on our TVs to watch the semi-final against England, and that fails to take into account the number of people in stadiums or the number of people in the beyond packed “Fan Centres” that were set up around the country, the average viewership for each match sat at a comfortable 7.5 million people. This number was more than double the number of the AFL Grand Final and or State State Of Origin football matches - 2 games which I thought took Australia by storm (whether justified or not I will leave it up to you). The demand for Matilda’s merchandise had as of August 6th this year far outsold the Socceroo's merchandise from during and post the 2022 Men’s World Cup, and outsold their own 2019 merchandise by 13:1.
It is well known that if you want anything to change, put your money where your mouth is, and it is fair to say that with the $7.6 billion injection into the Australian economy as a result of the Matildas, the Matildas will be at the forefront of the change that Australia needs to make to women’s sport, a promise echoed by the Australian government. After the Matildas’ historic run at the FIFA 2023 Women’s World Cup, the Albernese government pledged $200 million to women’s sports. This funding is designed to increase access to sports for women and help to upgrade facilities to help create equality, as a common issue in the past has been that women have been competing for use of the same fields to train on, often getting relegated to smaller, less maintained pitches and fields as the men train, and having to use the same changeroom or change elsewhere due to the male occupancy. This funding will be spent to ensure sport stays accessible and to help the growth of women's sport and support the grassroots movement. This has been considered a vital step in promoting equality in sport, however, the movement for equality and representation has been underway for a long time.
The Matildas are also continuing to advocate for the equal treatment of women in sports, with one of the most prominent examples being the “ Strikethrough poster” seen on social media and bus stops. If you aren’t familiar with it, this poster contains a list of the Matildas’ achievements all the way back to their first team match and their first time being recognised by FIFA. The list goes on to include journalists attending games, getting their first sponsor, making World Cup quarter finals, all the way down to winning the longest penalty shootout in history and having boys and men wear their merchandise. The strikethroughs however are no longer seen at the point where on the list they say “we get our fair share of funding” and “we get paid the same”. While they later say they will bring their all at the Paris Olympics, these 2 simple lines stand out, because despite the media coverage and fanbase that the matildas have amassed, it is true that they aren’t paid the same figures yet. They have been declared the 4th most popular sports team in Australia, surpassing the Wallabies in Rugby League, and not too far behind the Kangaroos (Rugby Union). While FIFA increased the women's World Cup prize money by over 300%, it still only amounted to $110 million USD, which is only a quarter of the men’s prize money. Did you know that many Jamaican players had to set up a GoFundMe page to be able to compete at FIFA? Many female athletes and sports stars still have to work extra jobs to be able to afford to play, train and travel. Tennis, Skiing, Surfing and most Track and Field competitions pay equal prize money, but FIFA is lagging far behind. Many would have blamed it on the lack of commercialism in women's sports or the fact that “women aren’t as strong or as fast”, but some would argue that it allows for a more strategic, interesting game that has no need to rely on brute force to make it entertaining.
Rebel Sport purchased what they had assumed was far too many jerseys, and were concerned about the wasted money, but they never expected to sell out as quickly as they did, multiple times. The FIFA women’s World Cup and the Matildas in particular have shown us that if you give us access, show us that we can play, the viewers will come- but do we really want our young girls to grow up knowing that they aren’t valued like their brothers or the boys in their teams? I think not, and that is exactly what the Matildas are seeking to change
The Matildas have been doing amazing things in Australia recently…