The world needs to achieve gender equality in sports - opinion

The growth of women’s sports demonstrates to young girls that they have the same opportunities as boys. It allows them to see and display leadership.

 Soccer: 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup Send Off-Wales at USA (photo credit: REUTERS VIA USA TODAY)
Soccer: 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup Send Off-Wales at USA
(photo credit: REUTERS VIA USA TODAY)

On Thursday, July 20, Australia and Ireland will kick off the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in front of a record-breaking 80000 people at a sold-out Stadium Australia in Sydney. Many more across Australia will be watching on television, cheering on the Matildas, one of Australia’s most loved sports teams.

There has been a huge shift in attitudes to women’s sports in Australia: ratings, participation rates, and salaries are at all-time highs. Sport is a uniquely powerful vehicle to elicit positive change and the Matildas have been the vanguard. The growth of women’s sports demonstrates to young girls that they have the same opportunities as boys. It allows them to see and display leadership.

It wasn’t always like this. When women first began playing organized soccer in Australia, there was no media coverage and only a handful of curious spectators watched the games. The players had no institutional or financial support and had to pay all their own costs –including travel.

Gradually, belatedly, things started to change. In the early 2000s, a concerted effort began, to understand and solve the different aspects of the problem. This was a joint effort, which involved state and federal governments, sports associations and organizations, academic conferences and journals, and grassroots movements led by the athletes themselves. Their work eventually led to increased funding for women’s athletic programs, grants, and infrastructure.

Results quickly followed: In 2007 the Matildas won their first World Cup match, and, for the first time, advanced to the next round. They have since become one of the best squads in the world and built an ever-increasing fan base.

Progress has not always been linear. In 2015, the Matildas went on strike demanding better conditions and ultimately secured a significant pay rise, as well as improved working conditions and substantially increased investment in women’s soccer. New collective bargaining agreements between players and the league guaranteed an equal split of commercial revenue between the men’s Socceroos and the Matildas while matching the women’s working conditions to those of the men.

The strike showed how much still needed to be done to close the gap. Since then, 16 major Australian sports organizations have signed the Pathway to Pay Equity pledge. Football Australia has committed to achieving 50-50 parity at the grassroots level within the next decade, aiming to recruit 600,000 girls and women to play in structured club teams.

Investing in the future of women in sports

The Australian Sports Commission has invested millions in promoting and assisting female coaches – including through childcare support and flexible work arrangements – with the goal of doubling their number by the 2032 Brisbane Olympics.

It remains the case that only a quarter of Australia’s soccer players and board members are women. But soccer is now the largest and fastest-growing women’s sport, with over 250,000 participants and reforms have been put in place to ensure 40% representation for each gender on boards.

As Australia kicks off its green-and-gold decade in the lead-up to the Brisbane Olympics, women make up almost 40% of sports people (and are nearing parity among children and teenagers) and the Matildas have become one of the crown jewels of Australia’s vibrant sports culture. We’re not yet where we want to be, but we’ve come a very long way.

Some weeks back, the Australian Embassy in Israel met with several impressive young women from ZAZA – Women’s Sports Community, who drew our attention to a recent Knesset report on the state of women’s sports in Israel. The report found that Israel is where Australia was, not so long ago, with women making up only 21% of Israeli athletes. This might seem discouraging, but we know great strides can be made in a relatively short time. We believe Israel has the talent and will reach its goals.

If you want to promote women’s sports and help them grow, visibility is crucial. You can’t be what you can’t see.

The upcoming Women’s World Cup provides the perfect opportunity. That’s why we’ve decided to team up with ZAZA to organize a public screening of the opening match at Mezizim Beach in Tel Aviv. So this coming Thursday, please join us for an afternoon at the beach (we are Aussies after all) to watch some of the world’s best athletes play “The Beautiful Game.”

The Australian Embassy will be hosting a public screening of the FIFA Women’s World Cup opening match, Australia vs. Ireland, on Thursday July 20, starting at 12:30 pm at Mezizim Beach in Tel Aviv. Everyone is welcome.

The writer is Australia’s ambassador to Israel.