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Ros Moriarty: Women’s Football In Australia – Are We In The Global Race?

Australian women’s football can capitalize on recent global advances in opportunity in women’s sport. There’s no better time to ask how, than on the eve of the FIFA Women’s World Cup™2019 in France, a little over eight weeks away. 

Last month in Britain, Barclays announced its naming rights sponsorship of the FA’s Women’s Super League in a multi-year, multi million pound deal. It’s the biggest investment ever by a brand in any women’s sport in the UK. It includes grassroots development in 100 schools nationwide. In welcoming the partnership, FA Director of the Women’s Professional Game, Kelly Simmons, called it “a journey to transform the future of women’s football”. 

Hot on the heels of this announcement, FA is supplementing its existing Women’s Football Board with a new Women’s Board for the professional and semi-professional game. Similarly to the FFA Women’s Football Council that I chair, the new FA Board will have representation in the game’s governance for the first time, with FA appointing from clubs, FA and commerce. The Board will oversee a new holistic women’s football strategy that FA will unveil in 2024. The goal is to make the Barclays FA Women’s Super League “the world’s most successful league, on and off the pitch”. 

Almost simultaneously this month, iconic British health and beauty retailer Boots announced a landmark investment in women’s football, agreeing a three year partnership with all five football associations in the British Isles. The Football Association of Wales has described it as the largest commercial deal in the history of Welsh women’s sport. The deal brings not just money, but unprecedented exposure in 2500 stores across the UK and Ireland.

FIFA is also shining a renewed spotlight on women’s football, describing it as being “in need of fundamental change.” FIFA says football for women and girls cuts across all society’s boundaries of “race, religion, ethnicity and socioeconomic circumstances.” It reports the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in Canada drew a TV audience of 750 million and sold 1.3 million spectator tickets. FIFA also cites current unprecedented investment in women’s grassroots football projects. 

Last month in Beijing at a partner launch for Women’s World Cup in France, FIFA’s chief commercial officer, Philippe Le Floc’h, was reported as saying he is open to changing the women’s football sponsorship model after 2022.  He said FIFA partners are now much more interested in dedicated women’s football programs, like sponsor powerhouses Visa, Coca Cola and Wanda.    

At the other end of the scale, Danish football is looking candidly at its shortfall on women’s participation and progress in the game. In mid 2018, a Danish Football Association (DBU) committee, headed by former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, reported on three overarching goals supported by ten specific actions. They seek to redress how far Denmark lags behind countries like England, Germany and Sweden. Despite the Danish women’s national team reaching the final of the UEFA Women’s Championships in 2017, the country considers it has a very long way to go. Denmark points to clubs like Manchester City, FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich investing heavily in women, suggesting it doesn’t reflect the overnight emergence of football feminists in the hierarchy, but a recognition of the beginning of exciting new value.   

DBU has quantified its goals. It aims to double girls playing the sport from 65,000 in 2018 to 135,000 by 2025. By 2028 it seeks to have won a UEFA, Women’s World Cup or Olympic tournament. Within ten years it plans to ensure one third of all registered players in the country are female, that women make up one third of the Board, and that one third of all resources is allocated to women. The drivers are a more diverse football scene that actually reflects the Danish people, a stronger overall sports economy – sports like tennis, handball and skiing they quote as not having been weakened by greater gender equality – and an array of health, wellbeing and societal benefits.  

Investment is critical for Australian women’s football to strive for world best practice and compete for opportunities. Last week the Australian Government announced a $200 million boost in funding for women’s sport. Singled out for mention was $30 million to AFLW in Queensland, $12 million to Tennis Australia for increased grassroots participation by women and girls, with cricket and netball also scoring. Funds are additionally earmarked for high performance training leading into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, a local community infrastructure support program and free sport-based activities for 6000 primary and secondary schools. Is football at this table? And which other tables can we get a seat at?   

The FFA Women’s Council was established through the FIFA-mandated 2018 FFA restructure process chaired by Judith Griggs. We have a powerful voice through the 10 votes we hold at Congress, which we can use as a block or individually. When we presented an overview of our first workshop to the FFA Board and executive in December 2018, we called for a 10 year plan to realise the charter we have set ourselves, to ensure equality in football for women and girls. We are pleased to see the subsequent 2 April launch by FFA of a 10 year action plan for gender equality. To keep up with escalating global breakthroughs in women’s sport and women’s football, we’ll be keen to see FFA’s aspirational approach go further to the timelined, evidence-driven and data-backed benchmarks the Council advocated.  

An encouraging sign for Australia is the robust NLWG process that resolved last month to move the W-League, A-League and Y-League to a new professional structure. Once again Judith Griggs has expertly chaired the process via the National Leagues Working Group (NLWG). Her leadership and skill brought together the moving parts of the football family – FFA, member associations, clubs, PFA and our Council – to work with goodwill towards a unified position for the good of the game. The new structure is potentially key to accelerated development for women’s football in Australia. There is an ambitious twelve week deadline to agree the detail. Importantly, the full report of the NLWG has been publicly shared and credit is due here to FFA for being transparent and accountable about a process that is undoubtedly uncomfortable and uncertain for the national body.          

Like Denmark, and to some extent everyone else, Australia is a long way from optimal on a number of platforms in women’s football. For example, equality of care and access for grassroots and semi-professional athletes, whether comparative quality of playing fields, and parent-friendly, girl-safe training times. Or consistently high quality local, State and national development pipelines assuring the game of the next generation of talent. In particular, there is a deep chasm to cross to involve enough women at all the touch points across the game, lift media representation and achieve pay parity at the pointy end of a player’s career. 

With 24 qualifying countries competing in Women’s World Cup in France, it is truly a meeting of knowhow and experience from football’s superpowers to address some of these big questions. What is certain is that the vision, innovation and leadership train of global women’s football has left the station, and Australia will need exceptional clarity, leadership and focus if we are not to be left behind. There is likely to be as much for Australia to learn off the pitch, as on it, in France. 

Ros Moriarty is the Independent Chair of the FFA Women’s Football Council

This article was originally published on LinkedIn and has been reproduced with permission.

See https://www.austfootball.com/about-australian-football