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Football’s two national bodies have cautiously welcomed the federal government’s pledge to spend $200 million on upgrading sporting facilities for women and girls, but Football Australia and the Australian Professional Leagues say more will be needed to underpin the future of the game.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese launched the “Play Our Way” grants program on Saturday, citing the Matildas’ stunning World Cup campaign as the catalyst, and FA predicts it will lead to a 20 per cent surge in participation for what is already the country’s most popular team sport.
Guidelines for the scheme, which will begin early next year, are being formulated, and a four-person panel – including former Matilda Tal Karp, basketball legend Lauren Jackson, netball icon Liz Ellis and Paralympic gold medallist Madison de Rozario – will help steer the funding into areas where it is most needed.
While the program is open to all sports, the government said football would need “significant resourcing” on the back of the Women’s World Cup – although how much of the $200 million will be reserved for a game that has been chronically underfunded for decades, and is already unable to match the surging demand for participation due to facilities shortfalls, remains to be seen.
Former Socceroo Craig Foster echoed the thoughts of many football fans by tweeting: “Nowhere near enough. Nor targeted to football. Come on @AlboMP. Get serious. Now is your chance to elevate the country through the multicultural game.”
Regardless, FA chief executive James Johnson said the government’s commitment would help break down barriers faced by women and girls in grassroots participation.
The Matildas’ remarkable run to the World Cup semi-finals has helped secure funding for women’s sport, but much more is needed, say the sport’s peak governing bodies.Credit: Getty
“Over the past four weeks we have seen football unite the nation … football in Australia has been fundamentally changed and the expected surge in demand, particularly in female football, has underlined the importance of prioritising community infrastructure as a long-term strategic objective for the entire nation,” he said.
But Johnson, who has previously been critical of the national high-performance funding system, which prioritises sports in which Australia is deemed to be in Olympic medal contention, said FA was seeking further money to improve all national team programs, predominantly the Matildas and Socceroos.
“FIFA World Cups, our Socceroos and Matildas inspire all Australians more than any other major sporting event – it is clear they need to finally be recognised in Australia’s high-performance sport funding framework,” he said.
Sources say FA is increasingly confident that the NSW government will soon commit to funding a long-desired “home of football” in Sydney, which would house the federation’s offices, a national football museum and serve as a training base for the national teams.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has launched a $200 million sporting facilities fund.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
The APL, meanwhile also described the announcement as a positive step, but chief executive Danny Townsend said it was a “major concern” that the A-League Women, the domestic league that plays a vital role in the development of Matildas players, was left out.
The APL has made an ambitious pitch for $12 million in funding to be spent on improving ALW broadcasting, subsidising recent expansion, marquee fixtures and players, and community engagement, which club owners have pledged to match almost dollar for dollar.
That amount, Townsend said, is just 5 per cent of the $240 million the federal government has committed to a new stadium in Tasmania for a new AFL team.
“Right now, there is no investment return for women’s football and the current private sector investment model is unsustainable,” he said.
“Player development is funded at a loss. Broadcast production is funded at a loss. Match days are funded at a loss. We simply ask the government to match our investment to help underpin the future of the game.
“The girls that play in these facilities dream of playing professionally, of making football a career, of representing their country and of inspiring the next generation. Without sustainable funding, that is not going to be possible … [it] would benefit hundreds of female players, thousands of girls and millions of Australians who have seen what is possible through football this month.”
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