Australia’s dream of hoisting the Women’s World Cup trophy is over but the co-host is determined to take more than a bronze medal away from a watershed tournament.
The Matildas lost 3-1 to England on Wednesday but won over a nation during their first run to World Cup semifinals, drawing record crowds and TV audiences.
Sweden will be a tough opponent for the third-place playoff on Saturday but Australia’s greater challenge will be to sustain the momentum for the sport in the long-term.
“Football is bigger than 90 minutes,” said coach Tony Gustavsson.
“We’re very disappointed in the loss, but hopefully we won something else. We won the hearts and the passion for this game in this country. This is not the end of something; this needs to be the start of something, and with that comes money as well.”
Australia’s players are already guaranteed $165,000 each from FIFA’s prize pool for making the semifinals. They can lift that to $180,000 if they beat Sweden in Brisbane.
The money will be more than some members of the squad earn in a year playing professionally for clubs in Australia and overseas.
It’s also a far cry from the 2015 tournament in Canada, where the Matildas received A$750 each for playing in the quarterfinals.
Months after that World Cup, they went on strike over pay and conditions, fed up with contracts that demanded professional commitment for poverty-line wages.
Much has changed with the development of the women’s game. The Matildas have had gender pay parity with the national men’s side since 2019.
Australia captain and Chelsea striker Sam Kerr, the first female player to feature on the cover of the hugely popular FIFA video game, earned more than A$3 million ($1.92 million) last year, the Australian Financial Review reported, mostly from endorsements.
However, she is an outlier in a sport in which women professionals earn a fraction of their male counterparts.
The Australian government tipped A$44 million into hosting the World Cup. A further $40 million was allocated for grass-roots programmes and to help fund the Matildas’ recently-opened training base in Melbourne.
But Kerr said Australian soccer would need more funding to remain competitive and relevant in a sport market long dominated by Australian Rules football and rugby league.
“I can only speak for the Matildas. We need funding in our development. We need funding in our grass-roots ... We need funding everywhere,” she said.
“The comparison to other sports isn’t really good enough.”
- WPL 2024: All-round show helps Delhi Capitals thrash UP Warriorz by nine wickets for season’s first win
- Hard work, determination and a bit of kismet: For RCB’s Asha Sobhana, WPL is just the start
- Indian sports wrap, February 26
- NBA: Clippers unveil new uniforms, logo for next season
- Bayern Munich signs Max Eberl as sporting director