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The Matildas: Australians going OTT on sport yet again?

By Brendan O'Reilly - posted Monday, 28 August 2023

A lot of people seem to lose their common sense when it comes to sport. Just look at the number of supporters that become emotionally attached to "their" team and go into ecstasy because "we won". At the extreme, this can lead to highly partisan spectators, and even to sports-related violence. Of course, Australians would never be like that (or would we)!

Public expectations of the Matildas have been noteworthy.

Prior to the World Cup finals, the Matildas were ranked 10th in the world. They had dropped to 12th following their defeat by South Korea in the Women's Asian Cup in 2022. In addition, you have to bear in mind that women's soccer is little played in much of the third world (and still not that widely played here and in many other developed countries). Thus there is limited international competition and (despite the odd spectacular goal) a much lower standard than men's soccer. Added to this, being the home side, the Matildas did not need to qualify, and had home advantage (worth an extra goal?) in every game.


Despite this, even before the semis, they had lost to Nigeria, and barely won against France.

In short, despite home advantage, nobody should have sensibly expected the Matildas to have more than a very outside chance of winning the Women's World Cup. Despite this, the PM and some other politicians (before the semi-finals) started hyping the prospect of declaring a public holiday, if the Matildas did manage to win the competition. Australians needed to "get real" but instead continued to dream before the team lost their last two games.

Although it was a disappointing finish, the Matildas still made history. Fourth place is the best an Australian side has ever achieved at a FIFA World Cup (even if only in the women's competition played at home). "We're really disappointed"said Captain Sam Kerr.

On the positive side, the team is much improved since it was beaten seven-nil by a team of Under 15 schoolboys in 2016, and it did score a couple of spectacular goals. In commercial terms, the Matildas managed to fill stadiums and draw record numbers of viewers on TV. On this basis they deserve to be highly paid for their efforts (probably more than the Socceroos), at least for this competition.

I am a firm believer that pay should reflect fair commercial value. So-called "equal pay for men and women" in individual sports is a travesty, where sporting performance and capacity to draw a crowd are unequal. If the Matildas continue to draw bigger crowds and viewing audiences than the Socceroos, then they deserve to be paid more. I would, however question whether their drawing capacity during the Women's World Cup is any more than a temporary aberration.

Some of the fetingof the Malildas was (quite frankly) ridiculous.


Even after the loss to England, Annastacia Palaszczuk promised to fund a statue at Suncorp Stadium acknowledging the success of the Matildas, while PM Albanese announced that Women's sport in Australia will get $200 million in extra funding. The Queensland Premier also vowed to triple investment improving female facilities at local sporting clubs. Meanwhile the Matildas were also given the keys to the city of Brisbane.

In my view, our politicians (even if they are genuinely fans of the Matildas) are opportunistically seeking to associate themselves with a popular team. Being in this respect insincere, they went OTT.

The statue for coming only fourth is absurd, especially when you consider that our national women's netball and cricket teams (that actually won international competitions) got no statue. Women are entitled to their fair share of sports funding, but this is best determined in a considered policy process rather than by emotionally reacting to sports results or popular acclaim.

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About the Author

Brendan O’Reilly is a retired commonwealth public servant with a background in economics and accounting. He is currently pursuing private business interests.

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