The mere fact that groups and associations with an intention to promote inclusivity even exist, says a lot about their importance.
Without awareness, action and activism things rarely change. Just as an acute and improved understanding of the complex issues surrounding men’s mental health and the newfound and fitting determination to address violence against women are important and poignant challenges in a modern and well-functioning western democracy, the empowerment of women in sport is critical.
For some time there has been something of a comfortable status quo in existence, where more and more women have become involved in organised competitive sport, yet their self-determination within it has remained limited.
Much back-patting and congratulatory sentiment has circled around increased participation and success in women’s sport, however, it has stopped well short of allowing women to become more involved in informing and driving the briskly developing and ever changing narrative.
As is so often the case, the metaphor of football can be a catalyst for change.
June saw the Matildas showcased on the world’s biggest footballing stage in a dramatic World Cup Round of 16 loss to Norway. The fervent energy and enthusiasm around the team saw thousands travel to and focus on France and the gripping group matches against Italy, Brazil and Jamaica.
Television viewership around the globe skyrocketed, achieving astronomical numbers in comparison to previous tournaments and the standard of both the individual and team play was impressive.
Yet just 37.5% of those charged with leading their squads into battle in a managerial/coaching role were women. That is testament to an ingrained perception and existing infrastructure that still sees women’s sport as something of a novelty, an add on if you will.
Achieving a stand-alone identity without the need for delineation between the sexes when discussing competitive play is sporting nirvana. It is also something that needs to and will, be achieved.
Australian football has made its stand on the issue with the formation of the Women in Football Association.
NSW Minister for Sport, the Hon John Sidoti MP launched the initiative at Parliament house last Wednesday. The FFA has given its full endorsement and aims to work collaboratively with and in support of the new group.
FFA Chairman Chris Nikou categorically verbalised that support. “From my perspective, anything that encourages and supports more women to get involved in our game, the better,” he said.
The Women in Football Association has similarities to the United Kingdom’s model, with aims to promote and support gender equality. That not only means a continued effort to expose young girls to the game and encourage participation but also to establish a network of connectivity that benefits players, coaches and officials alike.
Women in Football President and international football reform advocate Bonita Mersiades cited the long standing “under-representation of women in football”, even though it was a sport that attracted women of all ages at all levels as volunteers, administrators, players and fans.
Mersiades and her fellow committee members are unified in their belief that a national association with a focus on “networking, collaboration and professional development from grassroots up, is long overdue”.
The committee has eight members and a considerable and divergent group it is. The secretary of Brunswick Zebras Carole Fabian, President of South Hobart FC Vicki Morton and the director of Heartbeat of Football Elia Santoro are three respected voices in the game.
CEO of the Alannah and Madeline Foundation Lesley Podesta, journalist George Donikian and Western Sydney University Associate Professor Jorge Knijnik also bring an array of skills and knowledge to the committee.
The eighth member is former Matildas coach Alen Stajcic, a man with potentially as much knowledge as anyone when it comes to the inner workings of the women’s game.
Not only will Women in Football support the players, managers and the peripheral women in the game, it will also compile a definitive and accessible professional contact list, in an attempt to advocate for increased employment opportunities for female football professionals.
That network aims to provide federations with a resource to identify suitably qualified women, appoint them and address the existing imbalance via improved professional development and opportunity.
It looms as a ground breaking initiative, both for the women and girls involved in the game as well as Australian football in general.
The journey to true inclusivity and equality continues, with Women in Football now likely to accelerate that rate of change and advance the women’s game another step in the short to medium term.
Membership of the Association is just $25, open to men and women and the relevant details can be found at womeninfootball.org.au.