When I mentioned to a few people towards the end of last year that I thought it was time to form a group such as Women in Football – which, by the way, is modeled on a similar organisation in the UK - the question I was most commonly asked was why.
The answer is simple.
Our sport – football - is missing out, because women are not part of the main game.
And it is being part of the main game that we aim to achieve with Women in Football.
I’ll give you some examples of what I mean by missing out.
Only last week, a vitally important elite player pathway review was announced - without any woman on the review panel.
A move to introduce a national second division has been announced for men’s football, but it deferred a competition for women for at least another three years. The highest level competition for women, the W-League, has been expanded only once since its inception 11 years ago. Why is this so? Because when it comes to limited resources for a new initiative, women and girls are generally the first to miss out and there is no-one who argues their case.
Amongst the 49 top positions in football – the Chairmen and CEOs of the A-League clubs, state federations and other Congress members, only two are women. And they’re both volunteer roles.
With some rare exceptions, when women do manage to get on to a football Board or executive committee, the same women fill multiple positions. There is no better example of this than the FFA Women’s Council which is part of its Congress. All but one of the Council members is already involved in football in one capacity or another, so instead of bringing more women and different voices into the game, the game is merely regurgitating the ones they know because they say they don’t know anyone else. (By the way, I’m pleased to say the one new voice on that council, Maha Abdo, is with us today).
While the relationship between revenue and pay is relevant in professional sport, the disparity is unacceptable. The Matildas who were eliminated from the World Cup on Sunday received little more than $3,000 each for each of their four games, compared with the Socceroos who received four times as much for each of their five games at the Asian Cup earlier in the year.
More than 160,000 registered 5-14 year old players are girls.
Almost quarter of a million adult womenplay.
Up to 35% of spectators at the professional game are women.
At least 35% of the total volunteer workforce of 150,000 plus, giving an average of 13 hours per week each, are women.
The Matildas are th emost successful of Australia’s national football teams. They just competed in their seventh consecutive Women’s World Cuptournament as the number six team in the world … in a global competition spanning 155 countries.
All of these matters were brought into sharp focus in November last year when a debate was held for candidates for the FFA Board. Amongst an audience of 150 people at an open forum to hear the debate, only six were women. I asked at that forum where are all the women? and I asked the candidates what were they going to do about it.
All the candidates could say in response was to point towards the Women's Council. The simple answer was that women were not there because they don’t feel as if this game is for them.
And that has to stop.
Football couldn’t function without us – either on or off-the-field.
We are not calling for quotas; we believe women are quite capable of getting there on merit if the environment is right. But we want to help re-set that environment so it is right. What we will do is:
Help women who want to play a more active role, or those who want to be supported in the role they do play, through networking, collaboration and professional development.
Help the federations and clubs in finding women to serve on their Boards and executive committees through Trixie’s List that George spoke about earlier.
Help the federations and clubs become more accessible and open to women through education about diversity and inclusion.
I know many of the men in football – some of whom are here today - wouldn’t disagree with a word any of us have said, so I invite them to become champions, to stand-up for cultural change, and to be on the right side of history and say so.
The concept of Women in Football is that, as an Association, we’re not going to stand on the sidelines, wring our hands, and say it can’t be done. We’re just going to get in and do it.
We want everyone in football to advocate for, and celebrate, women’s roles in football until it becomes the norm.
It is only by giving women the opportunity to be active players in the main game; it is only by women putting their hands up to say ‘I want to be part of this’; and only by having an Association like this and us raising these issues and trying to do something positive that, eventually, we won’t need to talk about it anymore.
Just as there is still a long way to go in business in Australia, there is an even longer way to go in sport and specifically football: here at home, in the Asian Confederation of which we are a member and – eventually – at FIFA.
On behalf of Women in Football, I would like to thank the FFA Chairman Chris Nikou and CEO David Gallop for their support for our Association. A big thank you also to Minister John Sidoti for hosting us here today. We are appreciative of your encouragement.
We invite everyone here - and everyone you know - to ask #WhatIf to all the positive things all of us can do to ensure that the many thousands of women and girls who are involved in the game, either professionally or voluntarily, are part of the main game.
Not an afterthought to tick a box on gender diversity. And much more than being a taxi driver for our children on the weekend.
Women in Football is not about football politics. It’s about empowerment, inclusion, diversity, developing the talent pool, getting the best people in the right roles, and ultimately, contributing to the advancement of football in Australia.
We look forward to doing just that.
This is the speech given by Committee President, Bonita Mersiades, at the launch of Women in Football at Parliament House, Sydney, by the NSW Minister for Sport, the Hon John Sidoti MP, on 26 June 2019.