Friday 13 May 2022, 15:00

Australia continues to build towards gender participation parity

  • Australia celebrates Female Football Week as momentum builds ahead of the FIFA Women’s World Cup

  • The tournament co-hosts have set an ambitious legacy target in the coming years

  • Among the aims are to “unlock the potential of women and girls from indigenous and migrant communities"

2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup co-hosts Australia have set a target of equal gender player participation by 2027. It may be an ambitious goal, but it is one which Australia is intent on achieving. While there is already a strong base of female players Down Under, continued focus on building towards that goal is required. And another layer to that already-solid platform was laid this week with the annual national Female Football Week. The nine-day celebration was driven by numerous initiatives across the country, headlined for the first time by Football Australia’s new Our Game program. While engagement with players is a major goal, the festivities were also a chance to honour female coaches, referees, volunteers and administrators.

While there are a broad variety of sports on offer in Australia, football is comfortably the No1 participation sport with females comprising a significant proportion of the player population. “In 2022, we are seeing that women and girls across New South Wales are signing up in record numbers, and we want to celebrate this incredible growth in female football,” said Stuart Hodge, CEO of Football NSW – the largest amateur sporting body in Australia. “The excitement is building from grassroots about the FIFA Women’s World Cup next year, and the massive shot in the arm that this will give to female football right across Australia.” Football NSW’s Head of Women’s and Schools Football Hayley Todd added: “Women play an important role in developing football. We would like to highlight, respect, and acknowledge each and every female football champion in the [football] family who continually strive to deliver better development opportunities for players, coaches, referees and volunteers along with administrators.”

Australia’s Legacy ’23 plan seeks to create general societal benefits by increasing female football participation, but notably too it aims to “unlock the potential of women and girls from indigenous and migrant communities”. The diverse backgrounds of players in the latest intake of Australian U-17 national team players indicate the latter process is already in train. A major focus too is engagement with indigenous Australians, a section of the community who have traditionally gravitated towards other sports. High-profile players such as Lydia Williams and Kyah Simon are exemplary role-models for indigenous youngsters, as are several A-League Women players including Canberra United forward Allira Toby. “I'm a big believer in needing to see people of your culture represented, to feel like you belong there too," said Toby who grew up in a small rural town in Queensland. "When I was growing up, it was really only [track athlete] Cathy Freeman in the spotlight when it came to indigenous female athletes, so to see her was just phenomenal, but we needed more. “I'm very happy that I get the opportunity of having a platform to help future generations of indigenous kids who want to make a living out of either football, or just whatever they want to do."

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