Today was a good day for Women’s football in Australia. The Football Federation Australia (FFA) and FIFA announced that FFA would receive FIFA Goal Project Funding of $A536k ($US500k) over two years to deliver a National Women and Girls Football Development program.
FFA’s Head of Community and Women’s Football Emma Highwood is quoted in the FFA media statement as saying that she believes this funding will go a long way towards promoting and developing Women’s and Girls football at the grass roots level around the country.
“Through this funding we aim to increase the number of girls and women playing football in Australia and also improve the elite player pathway to ensure the continued success of our Women’s National team, the Westfield Matildas.” Highwood said “To achieve these goals we will allocate the majority of the funding to employ development officers nationwide to implement a variety of initiatives which includes the establishment of female Skills Acquisition Programs (SAP) with the necessary equipment. In addition we will look to establish a Female Coaches Mentor Program that will see an increase in the number of accredited coaches with advanced qualifications to provide them with the necessary knowledge and experience to coach at the highest levels. With the greater number of Women and Girls playing football coupled with an improvement in the expertise of the coaches at all levels of the talented player pathway, we believe that we will provide technically better players and coaches to our national teams for years to come.”
It was after reading that many suddenly were not as enthusiastic as they might have been. For a start what then have the FFA been doing for the past ten years to develop the women’s game? Surely these were all things that should have been happening already. In fact they were a part of former CEO Ben Buckley’s ten point plan for the future of the game.
In March 2012 Buckley said “In the women’s national team program, we aim to see the Westfield Matildas successfully defend the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, once again qualify for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and continue to hold a top-10 ranking. We are currently 10th in the world and third team in Asia. But it’s not just the senior men’s and women’s teams that we are focused on. The production line below our national teams is equally important. To deliver world-class players, we need to have world-class coaches to develop these players from a young age. Our new coach education programs have received international praise and we are providing more education and coaching opportunities than ever before from the grassroots to the professional level.” Was this all complete spin? If this was really happening one would wonder why the FFA asked for half a million dollars from FIFA.
Maybe the FFA are not as cash rich as many would have us believe. Let us not forget that the FFA also received $1 million of funding for women’s football when they launched Western Sydney Wanderers from the Labor government. That was also in 2012, where has that money gone?
There is no doubt that the Women’s game is the most likely to bring us World Cup Glory, but they needed to invest in the Matildas and all the levels below as soon as the team returned from the quarter finals where they bowed out in Germany back in 2011. Why was this not done? There was little or no planning around the female side of the game, all of the focus was on a decking men’s team and the crucial cash cow that was qualifying for the Men’s World Cup.
If the FFA were serious about the women’s game why has it taken so long to appoint a replacement for the disastrous Hesterine de Reus. She was shown the door in April of this year. Four months later they still have not made an appointment
Emma Highwood told The Women’s Game website “I am of the view that in the next 10 years we could win the World Cup and we are very ambitious for the Matildas. What is critical for us is that we have a young squad and we really need the right person that is going to come in and take it to the next level.”
Apparently over 50 applications were received with a handful shortlisted for the interview process. The advertisement criteria, stated that applicants must possess UEFA, AFC (or equivalent) Pro Licences and have international experience either with youth representative or senior national women’s teams.
Many in the game are dumbfounded that Alen Stajic who has been committed to the women’s game for a long time and who stepped into the breach for the Asian Cup at a month’s notice and steered the team to the runners up position was not offered the role immediately. He had proved that he had settled all the unrest that existed prior to the tournament.
Highwood explained this to the Womens Game by saying “We [the FFA] approached Ange whereas this process has been much more of an open process. We wanted to ensure we had a really competitive application process and that therefore meant we had to take more time to find the right candidate.”
There can be no mistakes this time, with only a year until the tournament starts.
It would be nice to think that the focus will indeed turn to the women’s game and they will get the money will be spent on improving the players and not be squandered on coaching structures that already exist in most states.
Although one cannot help feeling with FFA Cup games being played at the Perth Athletics stadium tonight and tomorrow are a case in point that money needs to be spent on bringing club facilities into the 21st century.
Many will recall that Football West CEO Peter Hugg did apply to the FFA for a grant under the FIFA Goal Program – A different program to the FFA’s recent funding – a couple of years ago. The application had to go through the FFA as State Member Federations cannot apply direct to FIFA. Four other member federations at the time also applied – NSW, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria – a total of five Member Federations for one allocation to Australia.
FIFA Goal that Football West applied for was for money that essentially only available for facilities (e.g. bricks and mortar) and was limited to $500,000, it wasn’t going to buy that much. According to Football West “Lighting upgrades, an artificial pitch and similar was discussed as potential requirements in the event that it was given. Inglewood, Stirling, Vasto and Dorrien Gardens were visited by the FIFA official as examples of venues that could benefit from such investment.Football West hasn’t applied again as there have been no other ‘calls for applications’ since.”