The visit of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Trophy and ‘Live Your Goals’ tour to Australia has provided an opportunity to highlight the current standing and progress being made in women’s football down under.
A special function held in the Garden Room at Melbourne’s Crown Casino on Valentine’s Day saw a host of key figures in Football Federation Australia’s speak passionately and proudly about the health of women’s football and the increasing resources being devoted to it.
Coming up to a Women’s World Cup and with the biggest prize in women’s football in the room, the timing was prevalent to emphasise just how far the sport has come and the positive direction women’s football in Australia is making in a standard and technical ability perspective.
“Girls used to get access to the field once or twice a week and it wasn’t really taken seriously by too many clubs or associations at that level,” Westfield Matildas Head Coach Alen Stajcic explained.
“Now we’ve got a group of 100 odd players that play in the W-League for 3-4 months a year. A good portion of those players play overseas so they’re getting full time football and that’s what we didn’t have before.
“We’ve got people who are dedicated directly to women’s football and that never really happened before (in Australia).”
Stajcic identified one of Australia’s biggest and most respected rivals as evidence of the level that can be achieved with the right plan in place in developing world class players both for the present and the future.
“I think Japan is an indication of how far the game has come,” Stajcic said.
“In the Youth Cup qualifiers in 2005 I saw these young Japanese girls and they were juggling a ball around like they were Brazilian boys in Rio and I just said at that point they’re going to win the World Cup soon – not that juggling makes you a world class player but the amount of effort and time that must have gone into their technique at that age – then within five or six years they did win the World Cup so we’re starting on that track now.
“We’ve certainly put a lot of effort into women’s football but I think now we reached the tipping point where it’s getting credibility and resourcing from state federations, national federations and clubs so once we go down that track ultimately within time if you put the effort in you’ll get the results.”
FFA Head of Community and Women’s Football, Emma Highwood went into more specifics and spoke about the importance of encouraging girls to play football.
“We have about 100,000 girls paying the game on a weekly basis, it’s growing rapidly but we need to focus our energy more in that space,” Highwood said.
“Girls participation should be a priority for us going forward and that’s because if we would like to become the biggest and most popular sport in Australia then we need more girls playing the game because girls are three times more likely to become fans of the game and consume the sport if they actually engage at the grassroots.
“Now is the opportunity to seize that and that’s what we’re talking about internally, and a key part of that will be how we engage girls earlier to get involved and play the game and enjoy the game.
“The role models that will be created at the upcoming World Cup will inspire the next generation and inspire them to live their goals in the way that the elite are doing now.
Also speaking at the function, FFA Head of National Teams, Luke Casserly commended the dedication and commitment of those involved in raising the profile and standard of women’s football in Australia, but singled out special praise for the players that sacrifice a lot to be part of the Westfield Matildas setup.
“We’re lucky we’ve got a really supportive and proactive organisation when it comes to women’s football. The program FFA has put in place is pretty unique,” Casserly said.
“We all know at the moment in women’s football that the Matildas don’t enjoy some of the privileges that professional men do but the dedication and commitment and the way this group of players apply themselves is a credit to them and a credit to our country, and they are great role models for young girls to look up to and I hope they know and I’m sure they do that they’ll have a really excited Australian public behind them and supporting them in Canada.”
FIFA Executive Committee Member, AFC Vice-President and FFA Board Member, Moya Dodd has long been a strong advocate for women’s football and girls having the same opportunities as boys to play the game.
Representing FIFA at the function, Dodd reiterated FIFA’s vision for women’s football world wide.
“While the Women’s World Cup is the pinnacle of the sport, we’re also very mindful of the grassroots because that’s where it all begins and it is FIFA’s mission to make football as accessible to girls as it is to boys,” Dodd said.
“We all know that for women and girls that playing sport is a practical and symbolic step towards full participation.
“We know the world over that girls face barriers in sport and society that their brothers do not, and football is the most played, most watched, most loved game in the world and that’s why giving girls a foothold in football is so important.”
This is where the FIFA ‘Live Your Goals’ initiative comes in, an initiative to promote the game and make it accessible and enjoyable for girls to play.For more information on the FIFA Live Your Goals campaign, visit http://www.fifa.com/aboutfifa/footballdevelopment/women/liveyourgoals/