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Football's grassroots funding: An open letter

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Roar Guru
3rd June, 2019
54

Australia’s national teams the Socceroos and the Matildas are frequently competitive with bigger and more established nations, but they need your help to go all the way.

It’s time to dedicate proper funding for grassroots facilities to meet the growing needs of soccer in order to boost the chances of the Socceroos and Matildas at the FIFA World Cup, the biggest prize in sport.

According to a report in the Herald Sun, soccer receives far less government funding than other codes like rugby union, rugby league and Aussie rules.

In fact, soccer receives just $37 per participant compared to $113 for rugby union, $110 for rugby league and $109 for Australian rules.

This chronic underfunding of soccer has led to a third of pitches having no lighting and almost half having no drainage and or irrigation.

This in turn has led to significant numbers of training sessions and matches being cancelled in bad weather due to poor availability, not helped by a lack of all-weather synthetic pitches.

Also, of significant concern is the lack of new pitches to cater for increasing demand with participation numbers for soccer rising every year, up by 50 per cent since the year 2000.

Female numbers are increasing by eight per cent per year but the lack of change rooms and even pitches to play on holds this figure back.

Sam Kerr backflip new Matildas kit

Sam Kerr celebrates in trademark fashion in the new Matildas kit. (Image: Supplied, Nike)

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In total, bringing grassroots facilities up to standard would cost $500 million to fix these problems.

While this is no small number, I think that both major parties should commit to it in a bipartisan way to boost the chances of our national teams. The Matildas reached the quarter-finals of the last women’s World Cup and had a FIFA ranking of fourth in 2017, while the Socceroos made it past the group stage in 2006 and their highest ranking was 16th, back in 2009.

By investing in grassroots facilities, the number of players and the time they can spend on the pitch honing their skills will be greatly increased, giving our national teams the best possible chance of success.

We already have a whole range of exciting young players either in the pipeline or in the current squad such as Daniel Arzani, Awer Mabil, Chris Ikonomidis, Riley McGree, Denis Genreau, Ramy Najjarine, John Iredale, Moudi Najjar, John Roberts, Alexander Robertson, Cian Cuba, Tyrese Francois, Reno Piscopo, Nikodah Smith, Ben Folami, Milislav Popovic, Sebastian Pasquali and Dylan Collard.

But if you want to win the World Cup you need to really commit to it, and upgrading grassroots facilities across Australia will give us the best possible chance of doing that. To embark on this endeavour will not be easy, but going on our history of success in other sports I think that we are up to the challenge.

Daniel Arzani

Daniel Arzani of Australia celebrates after scoring a goal. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Australia has won World Cups in rugby union, rugby league and in cricket. We’ve won major golf and tennis tournaments and the America’s Cup. In the Olympic Games we regularly place within the top 10 nations on the medal table.

But when it comes to the FIFA World Cup it’s something that continues to elude us and for a proud sporting nation like Australia it’s something that feels incomplete and we just can’t handle it. The greatest prize in sport is missing from our cabinet.

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Whenever the FIFA World Cup rolls around our senators and representatives put on scarves to show their support for our teams in the parliament. But to unearth the players who could finally crack it they need money, not scarves. It’s time to give our legions of young players the full support they need.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, give our players the tools and they’ll finish the job.

Winning the FIFA World cup will be incredibly difficult, but that’s what makes it the great and prestigious prize that it is. We should set out to win it not because it is easy, but because it is hard. And with the help of our nation’s leaders, I think our players can achieve it.