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After the World Cup, the beautiful game has a big issue to fix

With every politician in the country jumping on the Matildas bandwagon, Ali Clarke makes a case for them to address a glaring issue holding back the world game in Australia.

Aug 17, 2023, updated Aug 17, 2023
Fans at last night's World Cup semi-final. Photo: Daniela Porcelli/SPP/Sipa US

Fans at last night's World Cup semi-final. Photo: Daniela Porcelli/SPP/Sipa US

Is there anything more frustrating than a motherhood statement?

You know the ones. Those populist platitudes, uttered by politicians in front of a wall of nodders, designed to make us feel good, but when stripped back have about as much specificity and substance as a fart in a wind tunnel.

Over the last few weeks of this incredible FIFA Women’s World Cup, there’s been more of these statements than goals, and that’s far from a slight on the scoring power of the game itself.

There have been federal politicians calling for public holidays, premiers falling over themselves to jump in line, ministers and lord mayors draping themselves in green and gold scarves, scoffing nuclear hot sausage rolls in the corporate boxes of stadiums right around the country only so they can post on their socials  – #TilitsDone.

Well how about #TilyouFundIt… because what the hell is going to happen next, and are we ready for it?

Socceroos legend Craig Foster said it best while speaking at the opening of an enclosed pitch in Sydney’s West, named after none other than Sam Kerr.

Given it came about through private funding, he quite rightly turned the blowtorch on the leaders who, largely up until now, knew as much about the off-side rule as the thousands of us who sat down to watch last night’s semi-final.

“Every MP who’s held up a ‘go Matildas’ sign or put out a tweet saying ‘Tillies till I die’, there’s receipts and I’ve tucked them all away, and I’ll be coming for you in the future, because there’s a price to pay when you’re doing that,” he said.

That’s a pretty direct strike right there.

One could argue Premier Peter Malinauskas has ripped up his receipt with the $18 million investment announced this week into grassroots sport, ostensibly given instead of a public holiday.

As always, the devil will be in the detail, but in our world where we’re used to politicians being first on the sporting bandwagon, it was Foster’s other comments that were just as telling.

Why?

Because he would know. In it, he challenged Football Australia to get its balls in a row and reorganise the entire set-up of the sport to ensure any type of funding washing through after the Matildas’ effect, will actually make it to the grassroots level.

”People in football are often screaming that the game doesn’t get enough funding, and my first response is, well, you need to sort your structures out first,” he said.

“We need to have a coordinated national agenda, and that has to come immediately after this World Cup.

“I heard sports minister Anika Wells recently saying that the game itself still has challenges to overcome.

“What she was saying is she has five different proposals for funding on her desk from football, because it still has this disparate structure, whereas she’ll have one from AFL, one from rugby union, and so on – and that’s very true.”

When we know that children from low-income families are less able to pay to play, at the grassroots level it’s less gender-gap and more pay-gap.

As someone whose soccer knowledge is limited to these last few heady weeks of riding the green and gold wave and my kid’s involvement in the sport, I’d have to say, as a relative outsider, he has a point.

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All of my children played soccer and the programs run via a school-based competition were absolutely brilliant.

They were inclusive, the kids were involved with a training clinic before every game, and every Saturday it seemed a bazillion little people and their coaches and families descended on Woodville, much to the dismay of residents who needed to park their cars, I’m sure.

Aside from the occasional idiot parent, it showcased everything that’s important and good about sport.

But it was after that, when we started to make decisions about what was next, we ran into barriers with plenty of dollar signs attached.

In simple terms it was going to cost a lot more to send our kid into club soccer, with registration fees ranging from $500 to $1200. When juggling the wants and needs of three kids, it certainly gave us pause for thought.

One daughter concentrated on other school sports, one daughter has headed to a community gymnastics program and my son returned to Aussie Rules where it costs just over $300 to register for a season.

With registration fees needed to cover insurance, match day costs, rent, council fees, equipment, line marking, coaches and so on, it’s easy to see where the money goes. [The debate about it being used to pay for topflight players to stay at the club is for another time.]

When we know that children from low-income families are less able to pay to play, at the grassroots level it’s less gender-gap and more pay-gap.

Football Australia hopes the legacy of this World Cup will be another 400,000 female participants.

Balance that against the $200 million net social and economic gains the FIFA bid evaluation report forecast – and this was before the home team made the finals – and it is absolutely incumbent on the sport’s governing body to ensure they’re not scoring own goals. They must make every dollar count from any politician’s goodwill.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard of world ‘inclusion’ attached to this World Cup I’d be as rich as a FIFA fat cat – but it’s clear while we might be making obvious steps forward on the grounds of gender, culture, disability and sexuality, the divide in the heartlands is still economic.

Ali Clarke presents the breakfast show on Mix 102.3. She is a regular columnist for InDaily.

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