Over the last month, the Matildas have taken the entire country on a beautiful journey. In a country that is passionate about so many sports, it was quite something to see the whole country unite behind one team and capture the national imagination.
But the Matildas are far greater than this one tournament and what was created this month was a reflection of years of hard work, courage and sacrifice by so many, including former players.
2015 was a pivotal year when the Matildas went on strike to draw attention to their status as athletes; existing in financial insecurity and without appropriate support just to play the sport they loved.
This strike laid the groundwork for the Matildas and Socceroos achieving pay parity in 2019 and increased investment in pathways and facilities for women’s football.
It seems that the courage of the Matildas of old and the Matildas of today has also inspired the next generation of female athletes to use their voices and take advantage of a moment in time that has set a new benchmark for sport.
On Sunday evening, the majority of the Australian Wallaroos, supported by their Super W counterparts released a united statement, criticising Rugby Australia for their lack of care and commitment to women’s rugby.
Many issues were highlighted by the players but really, at the heart of it, is the female players constantly being told how challenging it is to lengthen a Super W season, or provide full-time coaching or full-time contracts because of cost.
Then on the other hand, Rugby Australia manages to find millions of dollars to lure a rugby league player to rugby union and have no doubt moved heaven and earth so Eddie Jones has a full coaching staff for the Rugby World Cup after the resignation of one his coaches a week out.
It’s a tough pill to swallow for the Wallaroos when Rugby Australia chooses to feature wives and girlfriends of the male players on their Instagram account being flown across the country to support their partners and then on the other, seeing the Wallaroos stranded in Canada following a recent Pacific Four competition. I don’t blame Rugby Australia for Air Canada’s issues, but I can’t imagine our male players being stranded at an airport after a crucial campaign.
In response, Rugby Australia released a statement on Monday saying… nothing. It just said more of the same. Rugby Australia are “taking steps towards a fully professional future”’, Rugby Australia “know they have a way to go”, Rugby Australia wants to “‘work together” with their female athletes.
There was no substance in the statement at all. It’s unclear what these targets are or what the timeline might look like.
What is devastating about this is that in a country where sports are increasingly investing in women’s sport (some more than others) rugby union continues to be left behind.
Some have suggested what is rugby union’s loss could be rugby league’s gain; rugby league has already welcomed several Wallaroos into the NRLW including Grace Kemp and Grace Hamilton. But that is unsatisfying for me, especially in a sport like rugby union.
I want to live in a world where women are given the opportunity to play the sports that they love and are supported by their governing bodies to do so, instead of playing a 5-week Super W season with some clubs requiring players to take days off work to train because of how compressed the schedule is.
I can already predict some of the responses to this article.
The Wallaroos can get money when they start to bring in money. The quality is not as good as men’s rugby. And on and on and on…
My response to that, is what responsibility does the governing body shoulder for “bringing in money” for the Wallaroos through sponsorship and promotion of these women through their channels.
What can we reasonably expect in terms of quality when players are living in financial insecurity to play the sport they love?
At a national level, we always see the Wallaroos start slow and the improve exponentially as tournaments continue; no surprise that playing consistent rugby as a team aids their performances.
I want to salute the courage and bravery of these players. Making a statement like this does not come without risk and in my view, the players releasing this statement publicly suggests that they are tired of having the same conversations, tired of feeling like they are considered an afterthought and looking to all of us to help apply pressure to the governing body and support their cause.
Women’s sport is not slowing down. Rugby Australia need to recognise this opportunity and start making steps a lot faster… otherwise they will be left behind along with their athletes.