• W-League players at the launch of the 2016/17 season (Getty Images)
Women’s Sport has taken a turn for the good.
By
Melissa Barbieri

23 Feb 2017 - 11:03 PM  UPDATED 24 Feb 2017 - 3:14 PM

Suddenly associations and federations are waking up to the fact that the old time spiel of “Nobody wants to hear about the women!” is quite literally debunked.

I have known this for a very long time.

People want to see the athletes. It doesn’t matter what gender, size, shape or colour. They want to see the hits, the tussles, the never-say-die attitudes our Aussie girls embody. Not because of charity but because they are bloody good!

Our Matildas are bloody good (period!) even though they haven’t had full-time professional W-League contracts. The Matildas are billed to win the World Cup well before our men do.

Imagine if they did have those professional contracts? Better yet. Imagine if those 20 contracted players grew to 60?

That is what Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) have proposed in their women’s football road map, entitled Grassroots to Greatness.

This visions has been in the works for close to a year, well before the AFLW burst on to the scene. It is the culmination of countless hours spent researching, developing and articulating the current W-League’s short comings and finding a solution to increase our player pool vying for Matildas spots.

The PFA, and more specifically Kate Gill, the former Matilda-turned-player advocate took on the role to change the landscape of women’s football forever.

Grassroots to Greatness
The PFA’s proposal to make the W-League one of (if not the most) professional league in the world might seem ambitious, but it’s exactly what women’s football in Australia needs to fulfill its potential.

“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit,” goes Nelson Henderson's famous quote.

That is exactly what Kate is doing.

Many players have left the game bitter and twisted. With so many complaints about how it is run or how they were treated.

Kate has decided to put her experience to good use so that the next generation can win a World Cup long after her boots start to collect dust.

The PFA unveiled its "60 at 60" initiative this week. It aims for a minimum of 60 players earning $60k per annum so that their primary job is being a footballer (get more info here).

We want the number to increase to 60 because it means depth for national team selection.

The USA, Germany, Japan etc all boast roughly 60 players that could at any stage be called into the national team and do well if needed.

This competition drives those already in the squad to better themselves as well as driving the selection headaches through the roof for coaches.

It also means depth. We all know how strong an athlete can be but the reality is they can also be quite fragile. Injuries can and do happen and the list needs to grow so we have numerous players that can slot in at any time.

But let’s put this into perspective.

The PFA’s 2016 W-League Workplace Conditions Report — which surveyed 111 W-League players — confirmed 85 per cent of players earned less than $5,000 for the season, with 25 per cent of players earning less than $500 for the entire season.

So what would $60k a year mean at the ground level for players?

Players union launches W-League vision
A longer season, clear career paths and improved wages all feature in a new plan by Professional Footballers Australia to bolster the W-League.

For a Matilda: she no longer has to plan her life in short 3–6 month bursts. She can put in a plan that would last four years. Transitioning effortlessly between W-League club, country and other professional clubs. A steady income that sets her up long term.

For a professional W-League player: she no longer has to choose between playing for her country or earning a living away from the sport. She does not need to choose between Matildas and a more secure income. She can now find work that not only allows her to earn a decent living but also allows her the flexibility to choose football as her number one priority. She can also flow between football contracts should she wish to (many of our borderline Matildas are vying for lucrative deals in Asia on their W-League off season).

For an semi-professional W-League player: she can now devote the entire W-League season length to being a full-time footballer. She can afford to buy food, petrol and rent without relying on anyone but herself.

Grassroots to Greatness is not a reflex action thrown forward because of the AFLW.

The AFLW is just testimony to the fact that women’s sport does have an audience should you wish to embrace it and give it the voice it needs.

So whilst we should acknowledge the fact that so many sports are doing it right, we need to stop asking why has it taken football so long and start asking how can we help.