Former Matildas midfielder Tal Karp believes football is the perfect vehicle to instigate gender equality in sport.
The FFA is celebrating Female Football Week — a nationwide initiative that aims to celebrate the extensive impact women have on the round-ball game — but it does so with plenty of pressure on the women’s domestic competition.
The W-League had plenty of struggles this season, amid the rise of AFL Women’s overnight success as well as revamps to netball and women’s cricket.
But Karp believes the W-League’s achievements in its ninth season were significant and is adamant soccer will continue to be popular among young girls.
“The greatest thing football offers me is a form of expression that translates wherever you are,” Karp said.
“It’s a game that can capture you. Football caters to everybody, it’s the world’s language. It brings people together with a certain social cohesiveness that other forms of communication don’t have.”
The Football Female Week ambassador, who captained Melbourne Victory in the inaugural W-League season, says the competition continues to be a huge learning curve for the FFA, who in turn have provided a base example for other codes.
“I don’t think it’s going to dwindle in participation but like other sports, it needs to take note of growth opportunities elsewhere and make sure that there are great facilities available for women to be playing the game,” she said.
“There’s greater appetite for conversation about how we improve things. [FFA chief] David Gallop said at the launch it’s important women’s football is placed in the equation at the outset and that it’s part of everything that we do.
“Now it’s just about taking steps to make sure that we’re accountable to that.”
There was still much to be encouraged about for the competition’s future. The league continued to attract and produce talent of domestic and international level, while crowd attendances were up 32 per cent.
The W-League grand final was the most watched match in its history at 440,000 viewers across free-to-air and pay TV coverage.
When will we be satisfied?
As someone who lived the experience of representing your country in harder times, Karp has seen a huge change in the way women’s sport and female football is treated.
But does she believe there will be a point, across the board, where we all agree gender equality has been reached in the sport?
“I commend the fact that we at the FFA are now working on a vision for women’s football moving forward in terms of gender quality and we need to have targets, measurable timelines and so forth to achieve those next steps,” she said.
“I think [it’ll be] when we don’t need Female Football Week anymore. When we know we don’t need to specially acknowledge the success of women, we won’t need to continue to recognise barriers remain because barriers won’t remain and in a sense, Female Football Week will be all weeks of the year.
“When we don’t talk about women’s football as women’s football, we’ll just talk about football and about men playing the game and women playing the game within that heading.”
Matildas’ success helping to grow the game
Like the Socceroos, the success sustained by the Matildas has helped generate a lot of interest at ground level.
Over 105,000 women currently play football, making up 21 per cent of the FFA’s total participation rate.
With football now the second largest club sport for girls under 14, the Matildas have demonstrated there are pathways to the elite level and unique opportunities available to football, like the chance to represent your country at a World Cup and Olympics.
“The Matildas are a credit,” Karp said.
“They’re performing so well on the international stage, as reflective of their recent achievements overseas in the Algarve Cup and providing young girls with an opportunity of seeing what they can be in the future.
“It’s no longer that you don’t get paid to play the game, you can play against the world’s best and you might even make a career out of it.
“Sure we’ve got a long way to go to make sure there is a viable career pathway for girls and women in the game but we’ve certainly come a long way since I was younger.”
You can find out about all the events and programs happening within Female Football Week on the FFA’s website.