|Issue No 51||28 April 2000|
The Locker Room
Women's Soccer - More than a Pin-Up Sport
By Anna Cunningham
Forget the Matildas calender! A across Australia, a growing number of women are devoting their weekends to soccer.
Girls like myself are embracing this previously male dominated sport with team mates, and taking over local fields in the thousands. Our minds are fast becoming crowded with thoughts of goals, tackles and oranges at half time. We've developed a passion for a game that supposedly belonged to the domain of the male.
Women's soccer is now the fastest growing sport in Australia, emerging from the shadow of the men's game. Thanks to major events and ploys to capture the attention of the public, women's soccer is conquering the sports world, and developing an image of its own.
On an international level, the face of this traditionally conservative and male dominated sport is also changing. Officials and sponsors are finally beginning to see the advantages of offering their support. FIFA President, Joseph Sepp Blatter declared last year that 'the future of football is feminine'. Television viewers around the world are continually witnessing amusing scenes, such as President Clinton's celebratory visit to the US Women's change room after their World Cup win. Nike's sponsorship of American superstar Mia Hamm has been a phenomenal success, especially since the Women's World Cup last year.
Mia Hamm, most famous for stripping off after America's World Cup win, is considered the best all rounder in the world. In March this year, she was voted the most popular female athlete by American teenagers, second only to Michael Jordan. With the advent of the American Professional Women's Soccer League, and continued publicity for stars like Hamm, the game will continue to enjoy soaring popularity.
The Women's World Cup in 1999 signalled an exciting new era in international women's soccer. Involving 16 nations, the Cup was the biggest women's international sporting event ever, and it attracted record crowds. Although narrowly missing out on the quarter finals, Australia managed to qualify for the Sydney Olympics, and are now considered a chance for a medal.
Based on the success of USA 99, Australia has decided to bid as host nation for the next World Cup in 2003. If we can win the bid, the profile of women's soccer will receive an enormous boost. This will be the fourth Women's Cup, and the biggest yet on the female sporting calendar. At present, we are the sole bidder to host the event, although possible contenders include Brazil, Croatia, and an unnamed Asian country.
Moves like bidding for the World Cup show how the Australian women's soccer movement is keen to ride the wave of the sports' growing popularity. Thanks to nude calendars, and world class competitions featuring our national team, the Matildas, it is obvious that the sport has a big future here.
The Matildas market themselves 'the new fashion in football' . Their nude sports calendar starkly contrasted to traditional marketing efforts of other women's teams like the Hockeyroos and Netballers. The calendar provided the team with financial support for their Olympic campaign, and focussed a great deal of attention on a team that the public were barely aware of.
On the field, the girls are ranked eigth in the world, and are likely medal prospects for Sydney 2000. During the Women's World Cup last year, the Matildas came in an impressive ninth, although they are continually improving in the lead up to Sydney's games.
But let's look back to the local soccer associations of the country, because it is here that the strength of the game is most obvious. In the sports 25-year history, the number of players has increased more than tenfold. We are now the sixth highest participating nation, boasting over 58,000 players on our local fields.
Most of the players out on the fields on the weekend are under the age of twenty one. Like my own team, the mighty Georges River Tigers, we're out to have a good time, keep up the fitness levels and catch up with friends. More often than not, performance depends on whether we've had a big night beforehand, although everyone turns up regardless.
Overall, the future of soccer for women in Australia looks very promising, for both elite levels and local teams. As long as the Matildas continue with their success on and off the field, and the more modest teams out there keep up their enthusiasm levels, then Australian women's soccer will remain a force to be reckoned with amongst international women's sports.
Anna Cunningham is a UTS Communications student and a PR assistant at Lodestar Communications. She plays Centre Midfield for the Georges River Tigers on Sunday mornings.
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005