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Opinion

Matildas past and present are leaders we can all be proud of

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Lucy Zelic explains how over the years the Matildas have shown time and time again that they are exemplary leaders for our country.

Each year, International Women’s Day gives us an opportunity to consider how far we’ve come, pay homage to our suffragette ancestors and grieve for those who continue to be gripped by oppression.  

I am reminded of how lucky we are to live in a country that allows women to vote, play professional sport, marry whomever they choose and have an education but it’s almost unbearable to think that these things are branded luxuries elsewhere.  

I am also grateful for people like my mother who raised me to be strong and men like my father, brothers, partner, and beloved friend Craig Foster who have always advocated for raising women up in all walks of life. 

But there are battles that continue to rage on and if the news emerging from Parliament House in recent weeks is anything to go by, it reminds us that the road towards gender equality is a chequered and challenging path. 

For the better part of four decades, women’s football in Australia has been able to sympathise with just how tough that journey has been.  

Who could forget the days when the players took part in a nude calendar shoot in a bid for any recognition, at a time when “sex sells” ran rife throughout women’s sport.  

Then there were the stories about the earlier generations wearing hand-me-downs from the Socceroos, getting changed in carparks and paying their own way to tournaments where they earned as little as $40.  

Reflecting on the Matildas decision to strike in 2015 after their historic Women’s World Cup appearance in Canada, I am reminded of how grim the air felt at Hyde Park that day.  

As I watched 2014 Asian Player of the Year and Matildas midfielder, Katrina Gorry breakdown in tears and confess that she considered retiring because she couldn’t afford to live, I wondered if we would ever live to see significant change.  

Four years later, Football Federation Australia together with Professional Footballers Australia announced that a “landmark” Collective Bargaining Agreement had been struck, which would see the pay gap between the Matildas and the Socceroos closed.  

The new CBA would see the Socceroos and Matildas receive a 24% share of an agreed aggregate of National Team Generated Revenues in 2019/20, rising by 1% each year of the 4-year deal. 

It was a world first and was instantly picked up by the global media.  

Just eight months prior though, the United States Women’s National Team launched a lawsuit against their own federation, alleging institutionalised gender discrimination.  

Together with the players, I, and many others were shocked in May last year to learn that their case had been thrown out by a federal judge, but their fight continues and they have vowed to appeal the decision.   

Given all of the turmoil women’s football has faced in Australia, setting an international standard has given us pause to celebrate but also highlights why creating a successful legacy off the back of hosting the 2023 tournament with New Zealand is so important.  

The persistence of former legends of the game, the bold decision made by the players to strike in 2015, the support of Socceroos players at the time and forward-thinking administrators in 2019 reminds us that we’re all in this together. 

Gender equality is not about giving women more than men, it’s about allowing women to be afforded the same opportunities to succeed which all of us can benefit from.  

And, when it comes to the Matildas, I couldn’t think of a better set of role models for my daughter.  

Whether it’s their courage in the face of adversity, being open about their body struggles, their challenging life experiences or their sexuality; the players have always celebrated who they are - flaws and all.   

So today, on International Women’s Day, I want to say thank you to the Matildas both past and present for being the kind of leaders that we can all be proud of.