Looking back at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, there are several unforgettable moments, but one that stands out is Cathy Freeman’s extraordinary gold medal win in the women’s 400m while wearing her iconic bodysuit. With the transformative impact of Sydney 2000 in mind, it’s clear that next month’s FIFA Women’s World Cup will be the most significant sporting event in Australia since those legendary Olympic Games.
The connection between Sam Kerr, captain of the Matildas, executing a signature backflip and Cathy Freeman’s incredible run is evident. The magnitude of the Women’s World Cup is emphasized by Sarah Walsh, former Matilda and head of women’s football at Football Australia. Walsh believes that this tournament has the power to reshape women’s sport in Australia and disrupt the status quo. The proof lies in the numbers: while 2.6 million people tuned in to watch Origin II, it pales in comparison to the 240 million fans who watched the previous Women’s World Cup final between the United States and the Netherlands.
Three years after Australia successfully won the bid to host the 2023 World Cup, Walsh has been diligently working on Football Australia’s Legacy ’23 plan, aiming to bring lasting benefits to women’s football. The plan consists of five action areas, with the primary focus being increased participation of women and girls to achieve gender parity by 2027. Football Australia has already set the example by negotiating an equal pay deal for the Matildas and the Socceroos in 2019. This achievement has laid the foundation for other sports to follow suit and adopt similar principles.
The second pillar of the Legacy ’23 plan involves improving grassroots infrastructure and providing equitable facilities for females. A national facilities audit revealed that only 24% of community facilities in New South Wales were considered inclusive for women and girls, thereby hindering their participation and retention. Investing $3 million into football, Football Australia has directed funds towards both stadium infrastructure for the World Cup and community facilities, resulting in noticeable growth.
The Matildas, Australia’s beloved national team, have transcended the boundaries of gender, demonstrating their ability to reshape the commercial and investment models for women’s properties. With an exciting future ahead, Football Australia is exploring unique ways to commercialize the team, different from the traditional approach taken with the men’s team. The per head spend at a Matildas match has proven to be significantly higher than at a Socceroos match, highlighting the growing fandom around the Matildas.
When it comes to defining success for the Matildas at the World Cup, Walsh asserts that Football Australia has done everything possible to prepare the team but refrains from disclosing specific goals. The team’s focus is solely on the first game, aiming to rectify past shortcomings by arranging a schedule that includes more matches against high-quality opposition, particularly European nations. Additionally, the Matildas have built an emotional connection with fans that goes beyond their on-pitch results.
With less than 25 days until kick-off, Walsh believes that the groundwork has been laid to ensure a meaningful legacy beyond hosting the World Cup. The hope is that the community clubs are prepared to capitalize on the anticipated increase in participation and overall fandom for football and the Matildas. As Australia eagerly awaits the tournament, incredible images of fan celebrations from past FIFA World Cups remind us of the excitement that lies ahead.
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Hasibur Rahaman is a passionate sports journalist. He covers everything from cricket to field hockey, delivering up-to-the-minute updates and in-depth analysis of sporting events, both within India and on the international stage.