If there was one team sport that was going to challenge that assumption, however, it was always going to be Australian women’s soccer.
The beautiful game, strong but much less violent and without the scandals of other codes, has offered women the perfect chance to show what they are made of.
It has come from obscurity two decades ago to rival the men’s game.
At the grass roots, there are about 400,000 registered women’s soccer players, still less than the men but gaining fast.
It is at the elite level, however, that the Matildas have done even better and they are arguably way ahead of the men on many measures. They are ranked solidly among the top 10 national teams in the world, well above the Socceroos. Despite a disappointing World Cup this year they still reached the knockout stage, unlike the Socceroos who were knocked out in the group stage at the men’s World Cup last year.
From a commercial point of view, the Matildas are in some respects ahead of the men. They have truly bankable stars, including Sam Kerr, arguably the world’s best goal scorer, who have won bigger sponsorship deals than the current solid but less famous crop of male players. A record crowd is expected for friendly games against Chile this week.
Despite this clear logic for supporting the women’s game, the equal pay deal announced on Tuesday was still hard fought and was by no means a fait accompli.
It has taken years of lobbying from Matildas players, the Professional Footballers Association and their supporters.
Credit where it is due. The Matildas have also thanked the men who helped them, especially the Socceroos, who have accepted a pay cut under the new enterprise bargaining agreement to increase the share for women. Whereas before men got the lion’s share, both women and men will receive about 20 per cent of revenue and up to 50 per cent of prize money. Crucially women will also receive comparable perks such as business class air travel to games.
Unfortunately, this deal is not enough in itself to establish equal annual pay in women’s soccer. It covers only national team games but most of the men will still earn higher salaries playing for their club teams. Despite such shortcomings, the deal is a welcome sign that reason can prevail. In the US the Women’s Soccer Team is still suing the football association for equal pay.
This deal is a landmark which sets Australia apart and incidentally builds the case for our bid for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
It is a good day for women in sport and for women generally and it should be a spur to other sports to invest more in their women players.
The Herald’s editor Lisa Davies writes a weekly newsletter exclusively for subscribers. To have it delivered to your inbox, please sign up here
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