Friday, July 28, 2006
Instead, it is the Matildas, finally facing peer opposition in a regional event, who have advanced all the way to the final of the Women’s Asian Cup in Adelaide. As a result, they have secured participation in the Women’s World Cup in 2007. A tremendous achievement in their first Asian outing.
Women’s football has never commanded great attention in Australia, and the crowds at Hindmarsh for one of Asian football’s showpiece events have not been especially encouraging. But, as John O’Neill aptly commented during his informative, dignified Press Club address this Wednesday, Aussies love their successful sporting teams. The Matildas have gained many new friends, and even some respectful media coverage, thanks to their achievements against Asia’s best.
I must confess to not having seen much women’s football beyond the park variety, but it certainly can be engaging for the spectator. In some ways, the international women’s football that I have seen has reminded me somewhat of the men’s game as it was played in the 50’s and 60’s.
And that is intended as a compliment. There is more time on the ball, the play tends to be more constructive, there is less reliance on the long ball, and, as Paul Marcuccitti has pointed out, the gamesmanship and offhand violence which so degrades men’s football is rarely to be found.
In a bitingly witty episode of the nineties current affairs spoof Frontline, entitled “Add Sex and Stir”, a TV producer describes women’s sport to one of his underlings as “the natural enemy of ratings”. Certainly this seems to be the prevailing view in the Australian media at the moment, where only women’s tennis commands airtime commensurate with its male equivalent.
Nevertheless, if the Matildas can continue to compete successfully in Asia (and at the Women’s World Cup, to be held, it should be added, in our time zone), the media may begin to take notice. After all, the fascination with the fortunes of the Socceroos in Germany revealed the truth of O’Neill’s axiom; even those who had treated football with utter contempt in the past - and there are many - “came out”. A meretricious conversion, perhaps, but who‘s complaining?
Successful Australian women’s teams at past Olympics have received generous publicity. The 2007 World Cup is sure to attract huge crowds in China; the sight of an Australian team making waves in foreign climes is sure to get most Australians at least mildly interested.
Best of luck to Cheryl Salisbury and her team in the final on Sunday.
Congrats to Tom Sermanni and the team. They've been on the up for a couple of years now, may it continue and bring on the World Cup. A best ever performance there will add to the theory that direct qualification through Oceania, at any level, did more harm than good for us.