Post 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Matildas and the Role of Feminism in AFLW

Written by Aish Ravi and Dr Adele Pavlidis, this article points to the "potential cross-sport empowerment" of the Matilda's success to the AFLW & ALW, and the important role of feminism.

As the echoes of triumph from the recent 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup reverberate, a wave of enthusiasm sweeps across the realm of women’s sports. With nearly 2 million tickets sold across Australia and New Zealand during the tournament, the impact is undeniable. Those who used tired arguments to support inequitable payment and support have had to eat their hat, so to speak.

Sam Kerr’s “Tillies” inspired the nation on their run to a best-ever World Cup result, reaching a semi-final and ultimately finishing fourth. This stunning result, along with record-breaking attendances and television audiences, caught the attention of rival sports.

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The question now emerges: can this resounding success ignite lasting change for women in other leagues, including AFL Women (AFLW) and A-League Women (ALW)? While optimism is abundant, the journey ahead requires more than riding the coattails of victory; it demands a commitment to genuine progress, values demonstration, and a resolute feminist perspective that champions equity and empowerment.

Feminist progress often resembles a dance of two steps forward and one step back, exemplified by instances like the non-consensual kiss by Spain’s Football President, which resurface outdated attitudes and behaviours, undermining the strides we’ve taken.

Moreover, the persistence of unacceptable behaviour being brushed aside and left unpunished perpetuates these harmful norms, creating a vicious cycle of recurrence. It’s high time for change; we must unequivocally commit to respecting women and shoulder the responsibility of propelling more women into leadership positions. This shift in power dynamics is essential to rewrite the narratives and behaviours of the past.

Beyond Symbolism: Charting AFLW’s Ascent

As the AFLW capitalises on the energy following the victorious World Cup, it’s essential to recognise that sustained advancement cannot rely solely on the surges of momentum. Instead of passively riding this wave, the AFLW and ALW must be an active contributor to its own growth. Achieving this entails concrete actions – strategic scheduling, venue selection, and robust promotion – a revaluation of how it values women within its organisations.

While the symbolic parity in prize money for AFLW and men’s competitions is commendable, it’s pivotal to translate this symbolism into tangible and consistent support for athletes who often navigate multifaceted roles. It is also important to realise  how that money is valued in sport. If expenditure on the women’s game is seen as a drain on the organisation, this devalues this contribution and perpetuates old ideas around women’s secondary status in sport (and society).

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Matildas and AFLW: Parallel Journeys, Shared Aspirations

The parallel journeys of the Matildas and AFLW epitomize the potential for cross-sport empowerment. As the A-League Women (ALW) season commences amidst the AFLW campaign, the similarities are apparent. Both leagues are extending their seasons and witnessing escalated fan engagement. The ALW’s expansion to a 22-game season, up from 14 rounds two years ago, exemplifies a commitment to enhancing the women’s game. This evolution mirrors the overarching pursuit of professionalism, equitable remuneration, and fortified talent pathways in women’s sports.

The success of the Women’s World Cup and the Matilda’s showed us what happens when organizations and businesses invest in women’s sport (including broadcasting, advertising, and events). Yet even with this proof, it seems the AFL and A-League are looking for yet more evidence before they invest what is needed to bring more people to the game.

The AFLW’s inherent marketing opportunities, such as affordable ticket pricing and family-friendly atmospheres, align seamlessly with the World Cup’s essence. While critics may argue that boutique venues hinder ambition, these arenas provide an intimate and inclusive environment that resonates with families and fans seeking an authentic sports experience.

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The Role of Feminism: Sport as a Catalyst for Equity and Empowerment

At the heart of all this lies feminism – which champions parity and empowerment across all aspects of the game. For the AFLW, ALW and Matildas to evolve beyond fleeting moments of glory, a feminist ethos is essential. This transcends momentary popularity; it’s about nurturing a sustainable ecosystem where athletes, coaches, administrators and officials at all levels can flourish. This involves cultivating an environment that supports holistic growth, ensures athlete, coaches and officials’ voices are integral in decision-making, and actively dismantles the obstacles they encounter.

As the AFLW, ALW and Matildas navigate their trajectories, it’s crucial to recognise that success extends beyond immediate gains. Genuine prosperity hinges on cultivating a realm where athletes can thrive holistically. By embracing a feminist perspective and actively investing in their trajectory, both leagues can contribute to a future where women’s sports are revered, respected, and genuinely create a long-lasting legacy.