An open letter to Anthony Albanese regarding the future of Australian football
Australian football is currently at a precipice with a home Women's World Cup looming, and there will be a massive increase of eyes on Australia’s footballing culture. With that will come an increased amount of scrutiny.
Dear Prime Minister Anthony Albanese,
Despite being the most played sport in Australia, the lack of funding football has received by the Australian Government has seen numerous issues arise in the sport at both a grassroots and professional level.
The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup will be the biggest sporting event hosted on Australian soil since the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Per the key findings published by FIFA, the 2019 Women’s World Cup broke numerous viewership records worldwide. It culminated in 1.12 billion people watching the matches, with the final between the USA and the Netherlands attracting 82.18 million viewers. The 2023 edition is expected to break these records.
The hype and excitement that will arrive on our shores will also be an opportunity to keep football’s momentum going for years following the tournament. Now is the perfect time for the Australian Government to assist Football Australia in helping the sport take its next step and allow the nation to be seen as an equal to other top nations participating in the world game.
In 2022, the Australian Sports Commission conducted a national survey to gather data on the participation levels across different sports and physical activities nationwide. The data, released in April, found football as the highest participated team sport, with a total of 1.1 million participants across the country. Strangely, the amount of funding given to football is incongruent with the data gathered by the government in the Australian Sports Commission Annual Report. In 2021/22, football received $7,903,750 in funding, less than sports such as hockey, basketball, and sailing, which received nearly $10,000,000 in funding.
While the recently opened home of the Matildas at La Trobe University is a great start, it is just that, a start. The government cannot rest on their laurels and decide they no longer need to fund projects for Australian football anymore. Many other issues are plaguing the sport's development in this country.
After investment from the Federal and Victorian governments, the home of the Matildas was opened recently at La Trobe University. (Instagram: @matildas)
Take the price of registration fees and equipment costs, which are unusually high compared to other countries and limit the number of kids who can participate in the sport from a young age. So, football is the country's most popular sport at a grassroots level but simultaneously one of the most expensive to be a part of. Should the government increase their funding to grassroots clubs, the participation level in football could skyrocket.
In a recent interview with Keep Up, Adelaide United’s young star Nestory Irankunda spoke about how his older brothers gave up on their football dreams when it looked like Nestor could be a professional, so the winger could chase his, as the fees were too high for all of them to keep playing football. If Australia had a similar youth football model to countries in Europe, Nestor and his brothers could have kept playing, and, as Mohamed Toure told Front Page Football last month, we may have had the opportunity to watch more than one Irankunda in the A-League Men.
In the recent Disney Plus series ‘Matildas: The World at Our Feet’, Matildas star Caitlin Foord also spoke about having to fundraise alongside her single mum so she could travel to national youth camps. It is of the utmost importance that your government helps to reduce these costs so that Australian youth football can survive as a healthy ecosystem developing high-quality professional players for both the Socceroos and Matildas.
In May, Socceroos Head Coach Graham Arnold made an appearance on the ABC’s Offsiders, in which he pleaded to the Australian Government for more financial assistance and for a football operations base to be built so kids coming through junior national teams can access the top of the line facilities that will help nurture their development.
One of the best things about football is that it is truly a global game, with nearly every culture involved in the sport somehow. Sport generally is crucial for people expanding their social circles and meeting others with different values, which can help create a much more tolerant and accepting society. The Australian governments of recent times have often branded the country as a truly multicultural society, where no matter where you are, you can meet and befriend someone with a completely different background to you.
South Melbourne Football Club is one of the biggest hubs for the Greek community in Victoria. (Instagram: @southmelbournefc)
Football clubs are where many of Australia's diasporas convene to engage in their traditional cultures. The Australian Government needs to continue to support these communities, as they provide an important piece of Australian culture, demonstrating the country as truly welcoming to all, no matter where you come from or who you are.
Should the government help alleviate many of the issues in Australian football, the benefits could be enormous. Looking at the English Premier League, the competition benefits the British economy greatly. According to a study by Ernst & Young, the Premier League contributed approximately 7.6 billion pounds to the British economy throughout the pandemic-plagued 2019/20 season. Now, the Premier League is the biggest football competition in the world, so Australia certainly wouldn't see numbers of that size. But football could benefit the Australian economy on a much smaller scale by creating jobs and increasing attendance at professional games, including a higher level of travelling support flying interstate each week to watch their favourite teams.
Last year, during the World Cup in Qatar, the scenes we saw at Federation Square in Melbourne and other live sites across the country proved the interest in football in this country; it just needs to be cultivated and supported to allow it to grow. Earlier this week, Federation Square was again the epicentre of hype and excitement as fans across Melbourne welcomed the Matildas squad and witnessed the players being presented with the kits they will wear for the Women's World Cup.
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The Matildas were presented with their World Cup jerseys in front of an adoring crowd at Federation Square. (Instagram: @matildas)
Throughout the Men's World Cup in November last year, you vocally supported the Socceroos as they reached the Round of 16, leading to their best-ever finish at a World Cup. Now it is time for you to put your money where your mouth is and assist our professional men’s and women’s teams and grassroots clubs nationwide. The interest is there; you have to fan the flames.
It is why I’m asking your government to step in and help solve these issues in our game, for us to hopefully try and take the next step towards where we can and deserve to be.
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