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How Football Australia plans to capitalise on hosting Women's World Cup | Samantha Lewis

Last year, former Socceroos head coach Ange Postecoglou publicly criticised the lack of long-term legacy that the 2000 Olympic Games and 2015 men’s Asian Cup left for Australian football.

Postecoglou, who led the Socceroos to Australia’s second Asian Cup trophy following the Matildas’ win in 2010, said that despite hosting two of the world’s biggest sports tournaments in in the space of 15 years, the game itself did not take full advantage of the opportunities these events offered.

While Postecoglou specifically highlighted infrastructure – football-focused stadiums and grassroots facilities – he and many others in Australian football have also pointed out the lack of media coverage, high performance funding, development pipelines and multicultural community engagement that football should have capitalised upon.

Football Australia, it appears, has taken note. On Tuesday, the governing body will present their 2023 Women’s World Cup legacy plan to federal government representatives in Canberra. It is a blueprint for how it plans to capitalise on the interest and investment the tournament will attract.

Spearheaded by FA’s new head of women’s football and Women’s World Cup legacy and inclusion, Sarah Walsh, the plan addresses five key pillars that the tournament will help activate: participation, community facilities, high performance, tourism and international engagement, and leadership and development.

“The legacy plan is something we started thinking about the day after winning the bid,” Walsh told Guardian Australia. “We already had an idea on the initiatives we really wanted to highlight through hosting the Women’s World Cup, so for us it’s about building out areas of the game that we think need further investment and areas of the game we think the World Cup will help us accelerate.

“There were some really great learnings, particularly around the Asian Cup. […] One of the key changes we’ve made internally – and what we want to work on with our members – is that “legacy” is not a program that’s tacked onto what FA does, it’s actually everything we do for the next six years.

“I’d say we’re better prepared a lot earlier [compared with 2015] to be able to capitalise. All of the programs that are called out in Principle X of the XI Principles will be fast-tracked through the legacy drive that underpins it.

“Legacy doesn’t end when we host the tournament; the work starts now and we really want to see the fruits of that for years [afterwards].”

Some of the initiatives in the legacy plan include developing a national Indigenous program alongside an Indigenous advisory council, expanding youth national teams to every age level from under-15s to under-19s, hosting “Pacific Four Nations” tournaments to assist Oceania-based nations to prepare for World Cup qualification, and up-skilling 1,000 women coaches and referees at the Australian Institute of Sport.

There are also plans to form an international business club and to partner with Tourism Australia, increasing the number of youth and senior national team games, hosting large-scale women in football conferences and leadership programs, and – as Postecoglou called for – establishing a female community football facilities legacy fund.

“We have to talk about the need to get more women in the game, but also we forget to talk about why that’s important other than for morally-centred reasons,” Walsh said. “There’s a lot of research that shows businesses make better decisions when having more rounded discussions, but I’d like to extend that to broader diversity and inclusion.

“I have a completely different lived experience to a lot of my male colleagues. […] Not all women are the same, as well, and that’s the reason why we need to start engaging more women of colour, women of all backgrounds, CALD [culturally and linguistically diverse] communities, all-abilities – to start better reflecting the community we’re trying to lead.

“We want to get another 400,000 women and girls playing the game if we are to reach 50:50 [gender balance]. The participation and community facilities pillars are absolutely key to that. Only one in five facilities nationally are female-friendly. That’s quite alarming.

“So we know the work we need to do, we understand the barriers, we’ve just got to start implementing these strategies. And through investment from the government and sponsors, we’ll be able to fast-track that.

“We have to be prepared for the influx of interest into our game. Not just for women and girls, though; you only need to go to a Matildas game to see all the young boys there with their fathers. It has blown my mind how it’s opened up a new market, the interest around this team. They’re something we can be really proud of.”

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