Women's football badly underdeveloped

January 24, 2014
Canberra United and Melbourne Victory battle it out. The competitiveness of the W-League grows every season.

When Nadine Angerer, German goalkeeper for the Brisbane Roar W-League football (soccer) team, won the 2013 FIFA Women's World Player of the Year, it highlighted the quality of women's football in Australia.

However, as Aron Micallef highlights in the article below, it remains severely underdeveloped in contrast to its male equivalent. The article first appeared on Micallef's Attacking From the Left sports blog.

* * *

To say that women behalf state and national governing bodies results in a failure to develop the women’s game right from a junior level. This is despite the fact that the round ball game is now the most played sport at junior level in Australia ― for both genders.

The flow on effect from this is very little in the way of marketing, promotion and development in either the national W-League or women’s local and state leagues.

Despite the level of talented players making their way through the system in all state premier leagues, and the W-League increasing in competitiveness every season, Football Federation Australia (FFA) continues to hold back the development of the game through a vicious intertwining of stubborn fiscal conservatism, mismanagement and sexist double standards.

The current format of the W-League runs for only 12 regular season rounds over a four-month schedule, with a finals series obviously culminating in a grand final. To put this in to perspective, the main men’s league, the A-League, runs for 27 regular season rounds, and the National Youth League competition runs for 18.

Even the NYL fixture allows for each team to play each other twice, both home and away. This costs both the FFA and A-League clubs (who the NYL teams act as feeder teams to) hundreds of thousands of dollars a week.

When it comes to funding future development and ensuring the stars of tomorrow in the men’s format shine brightly, there always seems to be money in the coffers, as far as administrators and clubs are concerned. Yet when it comes to affording women’s football this so-called privilege, duck eggs magically appear in their bank accounts and their accountants are all holidaying in the Bahamas.

All W-League clubs except Canberra United have an A-League affiliate and Brisbane, Sydney and Western Sydney are directly run by their A-League counterparts. However, for the most part W-League clubs are run separately.

Thus A-League clubs are not generally dipping their hands into their pockets to ensure their women’s teams get adequate funding, as they should be doing.

The cycle of nobody willing to dip their hands in to their pockets where the women’s game is concerned is a vicious one, and there are a few guilty parties involved.

So exactly what are these costs already “straining finances”? The administration of W-League clubs is split three ways between the FFA, A-League club affiliates and member federations or state football federation bodies.

This essentially means the costs involved in running the league are split three ways. The FFA’s role in all of this relates to appointing and managing referees, negotiating media deals (such as the broadcast deal with the ABC), dealing with the commercial aspects of the game and monitoring fixtures.

However, once the season begins, most of the administrative duties fall to A-League clubs and member federations. This includes the costs of running the league, such as travel costs and accommodation for travelling teams, and the costs of referees.

The estimated figure per round of these accumulated costs is in excess of $50,000.

Another issue is the costs associated with the ground hire. As it stands, most, if not all, W-League clubs are forced into fixturing games at out-of-the-way suburban venues, most of which are barely accessible by public transport. Even just to hire these barely adequate venues, the estimated cost is between $1000-$5000 a game, more if the game is broadcast on the ABC.

Factoring in other match-day expenses, such as security, medical personnel and food outlets, adds an extra $1500 on top of the venue hire costs. Taking into account the costs involved in staging a W-League round, to extend the season by the two rounds required for each team to play each other twice would cost administrators roughly $200,000.

What is important to take into account is that while the FFA, clubs and member federations cry foul about the minimal costs involved in running an adequate national top level women’s league, all the aforementioned costs triple, possibly quadruple, in regards to running the A-League. Yet none of those parties are shy about forking out the necessary funds to keep it going.

What is apparent is the intertwining nature of sexism and class, perpetuated by capitalist patriarchy. The simple logic inherent in these systems plays out on the football field just like it does everywhere else in life.

Men’s football takes centre stage, which in turn attracts corporate funding because its promotion is seen as profitable, whereas the women’s game is seen as a side show, or at best an “add on”. This is shown by by the FFA tokenistically staging a “women’s round”, yet hypocritically refusing to provide the necessary funding for the highest level women’s competition in the country to have a full season.

All these problems are only the tip of the iceberg. You also have the fact that most W-League players are unpaid. They know full well that they will never be able to make a profession out of playing the game they love, unless they happen to impress scouts from European or American clubs ― parts of the world where women’s football is at least run semi-adequately.

Yet despite the barriers holding it back, the women’s game has progressed somewhat. Recently, a tremendous effort from Sydney FC women saw them finish third in the world club championships in Japan, which finished last month.

The competitiveness of the W-League grows every season. Female participation in football overall in on the rise, and despite the second-rate suburban venues most games are fixtured at, crowds have been reasonable.

However, to progress beyond this stage, funding needs to come from those running the game, at the very least funding towards marketing and commercial aspects. Extra funding is also needed to enable clubs to play home games at decent more inner-city grounds that are accessible.

This will at least bring more spectators through the turnstiles and hopefully, as a by-product, make it seem like a more viable investment opportunity for sponsors and administrative bodies alike.

Also, the national women's team, the Matildas, playing the odd home international here and there wouldn’t hurt either, given that the AFC Women’s Asian Cup is scheduled to begin in May.

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