Should the Matildas wrestle their way past England in Wednesday night’s World Cup semi-final, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s proposed public holiday for the 21st of August following an Australian win in the final could become close to reality.
Many are against the idea, with small business not keen on taking on a significant financial hit thanks to the necessity to pay penalty rates on the day and the Nationals and Liberals are predictably falling on the side of the employers.
It would be a monumental move and a decision should be reached just hours before the match on Wednesday, when Federal Cabinet meets and formally determines its course of action.
Whilst symbolic in nature and no doubt something that everyone would remember for the rest of their lives, governments have far more pressing issues to deal with when it come to football in Australia.
As fun as a lunch-time BBQ on the day following a glorious win in the final might be, I would prefer to see the powers at be rethink the way Australia’s most participated-in team sport is funded.
Frankly, the financial support given to football when considered alongside other sports and the sheer volume of people who play and participate in the game across the country is utterly criminal.
It also reeks of a traditional and ingrained bias that has never dissipated, despite numerous efforts made by those at the helm of the game over the last 50 years.
Football has tried just about everything and perhaps that has been the biggest flaw in its approach; tweaking, constant structural change, re-inventing itself in so many superficial ways and never really just backing that the game was good enough as a spectacle when played in its pure form to eventually turn the tide of public opinion.
Off the back of that opinion, funding has remained at absurd levels when compared to that granted the country’s traditional and colonial endeavours.
The 2022 Ausplay survey estimated that football had 1,139,466 participants in Australia, easily the highest amongst formalised sports and beaten only by leisure activities such as bushwalking, cycling and yoga.
Yet sailing, hockey and cycling were just three of a number of sports to receive a higher amount of total funding than football during 2021/22.
Whilst not to disparage those involved in any of those endeavours, the figures seem well out of step when compared to the number of people involved in football, the price tag associated with it and what it brings to the general public.
The Matildas run has made the latter as clear as the proverbial nose on your face, with people of all walks of life and sporting backgrounds united in a way that no other sport claim to be able to achieve.
Just as the Socceroos managed in Qatar late in 2022, there is simply nothing that builds a nationalistic sense of pride than seeing our representative football teams take on the world in a truly global activity, something the Matildas have done with aplomb over the last three weeks.
If the money was there at the grassroots level to encourage and allow more and more kids to engage with the beautiful game, what could be possible is simply mind-boggling. However, state funding also still fails to give football what it deserves.
Alarming numbers were made public in 2021 by Football Queensland, citing the unjust funding model in the state, something that is mirrored in others around Australia.
With a little over 180,000 participants in the state, the Queensland government’s per participant spend was just $47.97, compared with the $655.27 given to each of the state’s circa 20,000 rugby union players.
If that does not make a football fan cringe, I’m not sure what will and given that Aussie rules and rugby league players in Queensland were funded seven and three times as generously, the reasons for exorbitant costs and the manner in which the game has been held back in Australia are clear.
How ironic it was then, to see Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk accept a role as a Legacy ’23 ambassador; the level of hypocrisy seemingly unrivalled.
The $207.7 million state and federal funding package to support the Legacy ’23 initiative, one that hopefully brings long-term infrastructure improvements to Australian football after the World Cup, was certainly a step in the right direction.
However, almost $150 million of that was slated for Women’s World Cup infrastructure and unlikely to directly impact the most important players in the game, the kids.
The majority of the remainder will head towards community facilities, certainly needed, yet once again, doing little to make the game more accessible to most hard-working Australian families.
Good luck with your efforts, Albo. It would be a ripping day, post a World Cup triumph. However, might I suggest governments avoid the pile on that always comes with great success and think more about levelling up the playing field?
If they did, what we are currently experiencing might well become the norm.