It was difficult to miss the irony around Tuesday’s announcement that Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk had accepted Football Australia’s offer of a role as a Legacy ‘23 Ambassador.
In overseeing a state that continues to under-invest in football and treat the game with utter disdain both financially and in an aspirational sense, it was incredibly hard to fathom exactly how Football Australia came to the decision to offer her the role.
Along with Paralympian Kurt Fearnley, Socceroo Awer Mabil, Matildas legend Julie Dolan and other influential and inspirational members of what will eventually be an ambassadorial team of eleven, Palaszczuk will play a role in attempting to ensure that the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia/New Zealand leaves a profound and lasting legacy on the game of football in Australia.
The governing body has identified five pillars around which such a legacy will be built. They are participation, community facilities, leadership and development, tourism and international engagement, as well as high performance, with the ambassadors bringing knowledge and skills from their areas of expertise, in an effort to use the tournament as a means to change the game in Australia for ever.
However, in the case of Palaszczuk, it is simply astonishing that her views and participation have been sought, especially when considered alongside the complete lack of support and the subsequent low levels of financial investment being made in Queensland football on her watch.
In an awkward pre-cursor to the announcement of Palaszczuk’s involvement, the ABC website ran a brilliant piece on August 24, where Laura Lavelle and Dan Colasimone took an in-depth look into sports funding in Queensland, the inadequate facilities causing significant issues with female participation and the serious underfunding of grass roots football in comparison to other sports.
The piece looked specifically at clubs battling to keep their heads above water, the lack of appropriate facilities for female players and referees in which to change prior to and after matches and the constant funding struggle at a community and council level.
With many clubs reporting a dramatic increase in female playing numbers across the last decade and with a further boom certain next season in the lead up to the Women’s World Cup, one might have expected to see government identify the potential issues that may arise, and lift funding to alleviate them.
However, it appears to be status quo in the sunshine state, with low and disproportional funding for football meaning that the infrastructure is simply not there to support the growth occurring, particularly in terms of young women taking up the game for the first time.
The imbalance in funding was captured coherently in a table that enunciates the issue in the clearest and most alarming of ways.
With football clearly the most popular junior sport being played in Queensland, its position at the bottom of the pile in terms of infrastructure spend per participant is concerning.
Moreover, the fact that rugby league and rugby union enjoy funding levels near seven times higher than football and Australian rules around five times, suggests the state government has made a rod for its own back in terms of future proofing the game.
Unless the figures reported by the ABC are addressed in the short term, there will likely be thousands of keen young girls inspired by the 2023 Women’s World Cup without a decent pitch on which to play, a dressing room in which to shower or a modern amenities block at their home club’s fields.
The figures are an embarrassment to those in control of the purse strings in Queensland and with the Palaszczuk government now in its third term and having held power since early 2015, blame can fairly be placed on its shoulders when it comes to a continuation of the institutionalised bias against football in the state.
However, the appalling treatment of Queensland’s young footballers and the severe and continued underdeveloped infrastructure that stands to worsen as participation rates increase, has not stopped the Premier from accepting a role as a Legacy ’23 Ambassador.
In media comments, she has said all the right things, provided the catchphrases required at brief photo shoots; mentioning the Matildas wherever possible and championing women’s football enthusiastically.
However, based on the current levels of infrastructure spending, Palaszczuk’s statements are at risk of being labelled as hot air, with the real challenge of producing a post- Women’s World Cup legacy requiring a far more tangible and meaningful commitment.
No doubt the role will help the Premier politically and she will be front and centre when the tournament actually rolls around.
Yet for those of us with genuine desires to make real change in the Australian game, a fear exists that once the caravan departs and the winner has been decided, football may not have extracted full value from what is a once in a generation opportunity.