Australia can win Olympic gold in soccer at the Tokyo Games and the women’s World Cup in 2023 if proposed development pathways are adopted, the players’ union says.
Professional Footballers Australia on Tuesday unveiled a pathway for development of women’s soccer that targets a minimum earnings package of $60,000 a year for the top 60 players in the W-League, a move that it argues would “leverage … competitive advantages” that soccer enjoys.
The Matildas and W-League players need increased investment to increase success. Photo: Getty Images
The players’ union, historically one of the more thoughtful and articulate bodies associated with Australian soccer, believes that with a complete rethink about development programs and a far reaching financial overhaul the game will be able to fight back and stand its ground in a marketplace where competition is not just for sponsorship dollars and media attention but for the best athletes themselves.
PFA chief executive John Didulica says now is the time for bold and decisive action.
“The one thing thing missing from Australia’s CV as a sporting nation is a global trophy from the global game.
“Women’s football has the highest participation base among young girls in the country.
“Our national team is amongst the very best in the world and our sport offers the prospect of international opportunity like no other. However, we are yet to fully leverage these competitive advantages through the establishment of a genuine professional pathway for our elite players.
“The goals of winning the World Cup and an Olympic gold medal are ambitious, and rightly so, as they must reflect our shared ambition of being the very best.”
Currently some $3 million a year is spent on the womens game (a combined figure for all W-League clubs and the Matildas, the best of whom earn around $42,000 a year, while others earn around $32,000), according to PFA figures. Top players augment those payments from the FFA with wages from their W-League clubs and also from contracts playing in overseas leagues during the Australian off season.
The union argues that for another $1.5 million a year, it could implement its model and change the face of Australia’s female sporting landscape.
“To be the best, we need to be able to offer greatness.Through an increased investment of $1.5 million we can revolutionise the W-League and make it among the best leagues in the world, and significantly grow our talent pool, which is fundamental to our international success and ability to attract and retain the best talent,” Didulica said.
The PFA has spent months putting together a detailed package – “Grassroots to Greatness” – which contains a raft of development proposals aimed at strengthening the position of women’s soccer as competition for the best female athletes intensifies.
The huge success of the AFL Women’s competition and the bigger money on offer to elite netball players in the newly constituted Australian championship is a shot across the bow to soccer, which is also facing pressure from the Women’s Big Bash League, where crowds and television ratings have been positive.
But soccer’s trump card, the PFA argues, was, and remains, the game’s global appeal and the chance it offers to elite athletes to travel, work and compete all over the world in globally recognised tournaments.
But it acknowledges that soccer needs to pay its players properly or pay a heavy price.
Participation rates for soccer are far and away the best in the country for primary school children and teenagers; the task for the women’s game is to provide a program where the best players can earn enough money to live as full time professionals employed by the national team and their W-League clubs while those who buttress the stars in the W-League teams can at least earn more than the pittance too many now have to accept.
The key points of the PFA submission are its $60k for 60 plan, allied to a minimum salary of $11,500 for full time professionals employed during the W-League season and funding to give the womens game the chance to hire high quality international players to bolster their local talent during the regular season.
At heart is a desire not just to create a financial safety net but to create a “clear and cohesive” career path for talented juniors into senior women’s football. The union would like to see all W-League clubs field two different age teams in their state NPL competitions to provide up and coming players with the chance to develop their game.
The progam also calls for a “10 team competition structured to maximise commercial revenues” where teams play each other home and away in an 18 game regular season.
The targets, union officials admit, are ambitious, but can be attained through creative support for women players. The PFA wants the FFA to distribute at least $175,000 a year to W-League clubs to cover payments and says that the clubs themselves need to be generating $385,000 a year from their activities to be competitive.
It also pledges to develop a National Womens Football Network to fund flexible employment to female players within the football industry, many of whom now struggle to get time off to play or train properly.
PFA player relations executive and former Matildas captain Kathryn Gill said the womens game had to be central to all aspects of the sport.
“The players understand intuitively that we can only tackle the challenges if we improve the game for everyone,” said Gill, the Matildas all-time leading goalscorer.
“The women’s game has reached the point of being the largest participation sport for young girls by trading off the good-will of the football community.
“The time has come to make the women’s game a priority and use it to turbocharge football into the consciousness of Australians as the true global game and the sport of choice for women.”
Matildas goalkeeper Lydia Williams said the lofty targets were realisable.
“Things worth achieving are never easy and we know what we can achieve with this model, for the game, for the players and the thousands of young girls across Australia dreaming of becoming the next generation of Matildas,” she said.