How the FFA gave the Matildas Away

The Federal Election has been a cash bonanza for professional sports and just this month football got a slice of the election promise pie. At South Melbourne’s Lakeside Stadium, current Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced a $15 million commitment to build a home for the Matildas alongside Peter Filopoulos a fresh football executive who has championed infrastructure since joining… Football Victoria? It seems a bit odd for no FFA presence for a major announcement regarding a national team but it does start to make a bit more sense in the context that the proposed home of the Matildas will be built in Victoria as announced by… Football Victoria?

Just two months ago, football fans woke up to headlines announcing that Football Victoria was championing a home for the Matildas in Victoria and somewhat remarkably (considering this was the first fans had heard of plans for a Matildas home) the FFA had thrown support behind the idea. Although undoubtedly great news for football the move from both parties is in stark contrast to the treatment of the men’s national team the Socceroos, who lack both a home training base and lack plans for a home base. In fact, the FFA announced at recent community forums it will be funding a feasibility study into a home for the Socceroos at a cost of $500,000 – so why are they taking a back seat to Football Victoria for the Matildas?

The Matildas are currently Australian sport’s hottest property. At a time when women’s sport in Australia is going gangbusters in the media, the Matildas are the best of the best. They are representing the biggest women’s sport in Australia, boasting one of the world’s most marketable stars in Sam Kerr, and perhaps most remarkably the Matilda’s are a fantastic team capable of winning the World Cup this year. The Matildas are hot property and yet without strategy or even an auction, the FFA has let Football Victoria snatch Australian football’s hottest property for free.

This isn’t the first time the Matildas name has been kicked around either. Newcastle’s Lord Mayor and Western United A-League Bid team had previously made public proposals to host the team permanently and each time this happened the FFA offered no guidance, all the while bemoaning a lack of national facilities and football managed stadia. Interestingly Football Victoria’s proposal is just that – a proposal. There are no public drawings of the facility, no public plans for how the Matildas might use such a facility, and amazingly no site selected, instead several local councils have signalled their interest. The largest indictment of this whole shady episode is the fact that Football Victoria’s proposal is actually an $80 million project.

Importantly the $15 million commitment from the Liberals was later matched by Federal Labor, meaning whichever major party with the election, football is seemingly guaranteed the funds. This means in just two months of lobbying from Football Victoria, Football was able to secure $15 million from government despite no plans, no site, and no clear way to make up the rest of the funding – entirely off the back of the Matildas brand. This either means politicians have swindled football for votes by making an empty promise they know will never have to follow through on, or the FFA has been caught napping and given away their biggest brand to a State Federation that showed more initiative and strategy than the national body.

There is no doubt the Matildas need a home, as do the Socceroos, and the symbolism of a home cannot be understated. For decades female footballers have had to deal with subpar facilities (in some cases W-League players have been forced out of change rooms for their male counterparts or even had to change in public!) just to play the game they love. This boom in the levels of interest for women’s sport is a celebration of both the pioneering female athletes of history and the dreaming youngsters set to light up sports fields of the future and right now, the Matildas are deservedly walking in the light that finally leads to a home. However the present is not all about celebration – it is a cultural disruption that offers unprecedented opportunity for savvy sports and it appears that the FFA is lazily riding a wave of interest rather than competing effectively with other sports in the funding jungle.

The AFL are undoubtedly the Kings of this jungle and have securing over $100m for facilities tied to their women’s league by effectively coordinating a cohesive national narrative and leveraging existing AFL club resources to dot Centres of Excellence (to be primarily used by Men’s teams) across Australia. The FFA’s story telling/lobbying on the other hand isn’t just unproductive but in cases has been destructive to the game. At the recent community forums board members explained how conflicting expansion bids in Victoria (South Melbourne, Western United and Team 11) which each required some level of Government funding for success effectively froze professional football funding from State Government as political parties didn’t want to lose two seats by effectively selecting the new A-League expansion side for the other one.

This conflicting interest epidemic is prevalent across many key football activities – a disrupted national league story (NSL/A-League), disrupted team stories (Melbourne Heart/City) and the inability to follow through on a long-promised football museum. Australian Football’s inability to tell its story has been well noted but it also has an inability to tell a story about its future and continued indecision and uncertainty is seeing football resources and government funding being wasted or even disappearing.

The Matildas deserve a home and Victoria may be the best place for it however, in failing to be proactive and provide strategy or a plan the FFA has once again made itself subject to someone else’s decisions.

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