Mary’s Wonder Women: Michelle Heyman and Ann Odong

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By Mary Konstantopoulos, Mary Konstantopoulos is a Roar Expert

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    There are many women in football, but only one has been described to me as a ‘non-stop smile’. That footballer is Michelle Heyman.

    On Sunday, Michelle played her 100th W-League game for Canberra United and the team celebrated with a 2-0 win over the Western Sydney Wanderers.

    Michelle is one of my favourite characters in football. Not only is she an exceptional talent on the field, but off the field she is passionate about encouraging people to be themselves and is an LGBTIQ ambassador.

    Michelle has played one season with Sydney FC, then a season with the Central Coast Mariners, before making the move to the nation’s capital in 2010.

    It’s incredible it has taken Michelle this long to reach the milestone, despite playing in the W-League for over a decade. Plenty of reasons contribute to this (including injury) but the main one is that over the last ten years, there have been limited changes to scheduling and length of season.

    The W-League season has grown from just ten to 12 home-and-away games over the summer.

    This is something plenty of you may find staggering, particularly considering the focus on the Matildas at the moment and their success in 2017 – including their win at the Tournament of Nations and Sam Kerr taking over the world.

    Sam Kerr Matildas Australian Football 2017

    Photo by Zak Kaczmarek/Getty Images

    Imagine what the Matildas could do with a national competition that was longer and more lucrative for the players involved?

    Plenty has changed for women’s football during the decade that Michelle has been involved – most notably in terms of making the sport more professional.

    Despite improvements, many players still head overseas during the off-season to support themselves in playing football all-year round.

    One of the most significant announcements of all came earlier this year, with a record pay-deal being announced. This pay deal guaranteed $10,000 minimum player contracts for the season, saw an improvement in minimum medical standards, a new maternity policy, football and non-football income protection for injured players, an increase in the length of contracts – with the ability for players to sign multi-year deals – access to the PFA Player Development Program, and the provision of football boots and runners.

    For many female footballers, this meant their average wage doubled this season. This new Collective Bargaining Agreement meant that the average wage for a W-League player is now $15,500 and will rise to $17,400 per season next year. The salary cap for the competition has also increased to $300,000 to pay these increased wages.

    Progress is being made.

    Hopefully we are fortunate enough to have Michelle as part of the W-League for the next decade too. In that time, I am not only confident that she will continue to advocate the importance of people being themselves, but that we will see plenty more changes to a women’s sport which Australia is getting excited about.

    Congratulations on a phenomenal milestone, Michelle.

    Michelle Heyman of the Matildas

    AP Photo/Arisson Marinho

    The women’s game
    One of my favourite things about sport is that it is about so much more than what happens on the field.

    Sport is a family and encompasses so many people – from the athletes who compete, to the officials, to the fans, the governing bodies and volunteers. Sport is a breathing organism and for it to be as successful as it can be, each of these parts need to work collaboratively together.

    Another extremely important part of the sporting family is the media and this week I want to celebrate one very special woman who, as part of the media and in her role as an advocate, has become such an important part of the Australian football family.

    That woman is Ann Odong.

    Ann started the popular media organisation The Women’s Game due to the lack of information about women’s football ten years ago.

    The Women’s Game started as a website which was born out of Ann’s bedroom on an old school Macbook computer and has now grown into a thriving organisation with a team of many volunteers that actively promote, support and cover’s women’s football in Australia.

    It was announced last week that Ann is stepping away after nine and a half years with the Women’s Game and that Cheryl Downes and Angela Bacic will be the new joint Editors-in-Chief of the website.

    In the time that Ann has been involved, the Women’s Game has covered (among other things) all ten seasons of the W-League, the 2010 and 2014 Asian Cup, the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, the 2017 Algarve Cup, all Matildas internationals from 2008-17 and plenty of AFC youth tournaments for the Young and Junior Matildas.

    I want to congratulate and thank Ann for her fearless work to celebrate women’s football. Ann has travelled all over the world because of her love of football and the media landscape is warmer, kinder and more knowledgeable because of her work.

    She is someone I look up to and am remarkably lucky to call a friend.

    Ann, thank you for your contribution to women’s sport in this country. I wish you all the best for your next adventure.

    Mary Konstantopoulos
    Mary Konstantopoulos

    Mary Konstantopoulos is a lawyer, sports advocate and proud owner and founder of the Ladies Who empire, including Ladies who League, Ladies who Legspin, Ladies who Lineout and Ladies who Leap. You can find her podcast on iTunes and find her on Twitter @mary__kaye and @ladieswholeague.

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    The Crowd Says (7)

    • January 19th 2018 @ 8:06am
      Nemesis said | January 19th 2018 @ 8:06am | ! Report

      Thanks for this article, Mary. Terrific reading.

      Just 1 point about “most notably in terms of making the sport more professional.”

      I don’t understand this modern-day sense of entitlement.

      As recently as the early 1990s, there was no professional men’s club sport in Australia. Even with huge interest on TV & crowds at the stadium, Aussie Rules was not a full-time professional competition. Players like Justin Madden were still working full time as an architect when he won the Grand Final in 1987.

      My point being, professional sport must evolve organically.

      We can’t simply say “WLeague must be full-time professional” and expect money to appear by magic to finance this.

      I’m sure every writer (or artist, or musician) thinks “my job should be full-time professional”. But, the reality of life is that, no matter how great a person’s talents, those talents will not sustain full-time professional work unless the endeavours can be sufficiently monetised.

      So, by all means, if people think the FFA is not optimising the monetisation of the WLeague, then we must criticize why this is not happening.

      But, unless we get significant gate receipts, sponsorship & TV broadcast revenue, it is just fanciful for people to glibly suggest “WLeague should be full-time professional”.

      Men’s club football has only been full-time professional for 13 years. I’m sure the NSL players thought their talents deserved full-time wages. But, the reality was: the market did not provide such revenue for full-time wages.

      This is life. This is not something unique to football.

      • Columnist

        January 19th 2018 @ 9:29am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | January 19th 2018 @ 9:29am | ! Report

        Hey Nemesis

        Thanks for your comment!

        I think the frustration for me is that Australian sports fans cannot have their cake and eat it too.

        At the moment, everyone is loving how successful the Matildas are. The public expects them to keep getting better and to keep improving. But how can they do that and compete at the top level if they are not paid appropriately to do so? It is telling that so many of our football players have to go overseas so that they can play all year round. Our W-League is the breeding ground for the next generation of Matildas – it needs to be a sustainable path.

        The Aussie 7s womens team is a great case study. They were made professional and centralised at Narrabeen a couple of years before the Olympics – look at the result there.

        I think female athletes should be compensated for the time and effort that they put into their sports (particularly when you compare the Matildas to the Socceroos at the moment – there is more interest in them and they are more successful). But if we don’t want to compesnate our athletes, then I think it is very unfair to expect too much from them on the world stage (i.e. the Commonwealth Games and Olympics).

        • January 19th 2018 @ 9:34am
          Nemesis said | January 19th 2018 @ 9:34am | ! Report

          “But if we don’t want to compesnate our athletes, then I think it is very unfair to expect too much from them on the world stage (i.e. the Commonwealth Games and Olympics).”

          Totally agree, Mary.

          But, as I said: the reality of life is that you won’t be paid for your talents, unless you find a way to get people to pay for the talents.

          There are writers, poets, artists who are hugely talented, but many can’t earn a full time wage from their talent alone. This is life.

    • January 19th 2018 @ 9:23am
      Kanga versus Phoenix said | January 19th 2018 @ 9:23am | ! Report

      Hi Mary

      It would be great to have a longer W league , and the quality is at an all time high now , with the mix of Americans playing in the league .

      I’m guessing the high costs of travel and running the competition longer is probably one reason it’s shorter, . It would take a large television deal to make this affordable
      ….plus most of the elite Australian or American women need to be back for there pre season in USA . That is where they mske the big bucks .

      During the winter , each capital city has high quality women’s competition, which the remaining w league players play in .

      No doubt the Matilda’s are on the right path . I can’t wait to see if they can win a World Cup or Olympic gold.

    • January 19th 2018 @ 10:52am
      Ken Spacey said | January 19th 2018 @ 10:52am | ! Report

      Corporate Australia seem to be a bit reluctant to support the Matildas for reasons that are difficult to fathom. Sam Kerr among others is a promotional dream but where is the interest? Can you hear the tumble weeds blowing down World Cup 2019 Avenue? Wanting it won’t get us the event but not seeming to really want it will kill it stone dead!!!

      Agree Michelle is a gem and Ann has made a fabulous and often undervalued contribution.

    • January 19th 2018 @ 11:15am
      Betty B said | January 19th 2018 @ 11:15am | ! Report

      Thanks Mary, great article.
      Michelle Heyman is a fabulous character, as are a lot of our W League players. So many of them have attributes the public would adore. I think the W League will expand soon, it seems to be in the conversation more often these days, and am sure I heard some words from the FFA to that effect just recently.
      It’s such a great competition, so close and so hard fought.
      Not sure if you’re across the WNBL, but the finals series currently being played is quite the battle. So good to see the aged star, Suzt Batkovic fighting it out to the end.

    • January 19th 2018 @ 1:39pm
      Josh said | January 19th 2018 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

      I don’t get why there is a breakfast cereal company advertising around Sydney using an AFLW player. No one knows the team she plays for let alone who she is.

      They should use well known stars like Michelle, we know here and we know her team.

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