A victory for players and women’s sports alike.
After a rocky start to 2023’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, the Matildas showed they are a force to be reckoned with after their 2-0 win over Demark, securing a spot in the quarterfinals.
The victory, however, marked a milestone not just for the players, but also for visibility of women’s sports. With over 2.3 million viewers across Australia, the match is now the most watched broadcast event in Australia this year, scoring higher ratings than both the State of Origin 2023 game one and the 2022 AFL Grand Final, two of the biggest events in men’s sports.
After years of relative obscurity, the Matildas have shown that support for women’s sports in Australia has never been stronger. And, more importantly, that success is not just limited to one sport: AFL, NRL, Netball, and many others have developed vibrant national women’s leagues over the past decade at all levels of play.
The passion in women’s sports, however, often comes up against the business realities that have long held women’s leagues back. Most damning in recent times was the run up to the Women’s World Cup, as many networks globally balked at paying the same amount for the broadcast rights for both men and women’s soccer.
“Public broadcasters in big countries offer $100 million or more to broadcast the men’s World Cup; they offer us $1 million or less to broadcast the Women’s World Cup,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said in April 2023.
This is not a new story: for decades, women athletes and supporters have worked tirelessly to build up competitive women’s leagues across the country. Yet despite their best efforts, women’s sports have been seen as less important than their male counterparts, with substantially fewer opportunities for the players and the leagues.
In particular, the gender pay gap has long been one of the most contentious sticking points for players. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest that a female athlete earns on average almost $25,000 less than a male athlete a year. In real terms, this has made it difficult for women choosing to play professionally, taking on additional work where they can support themselves.
Beyond the gender wage gap, women’s sports clubs across all levels of play report difficulties accessing training facilities, equipment, sponsorships, and financing. Even just watching women compete can be challenging, as most broadcast networks have defaulted to airing men’s sports almost exclusively for decades.
Yet despite those challenges, the seeds have been planted for a bright future ahead.
Despite decades of women’s sports plagued by little attention from mainstream Australians and broadcast networks, many female leagues are now finding a passionate audience. One study in particular found almost 70 per cent of Australians watch more women’s sports since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 72 per cent of men saying they watch women’s sport.
Perhaps most importantly, player participation in local and national women’s clubs is growing fast, especially amongst younger women. According to the Australian Sports Commissions, half of all Australian girls aged 0-14 play sports at least once a week, higher than previous generations. Women’s soccer alone has over 26,000 women and girls signed up to play, with many more expected in the coming years as the next generation is inspired by the efforts of the Matildas.
Young girls are now finally getting the chance to see women competing on the field, and rewarded on the podium, where they belong. Now we’ll just have to see if the business around women’s sports can catch up with interest in women’s sports.
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