‘Smashing Stereotypes’: Why the Women’s World Cup Is a Once in a Lifetime Event for Creating Change

‘Smashing Stereotypes’: Why the Women’s World Cup Is a Once in a Lifetime Event for Creating Change

Back in 2011, Rachel Dixon wrote in the Guardian about how it felt to watch the Women’s World Cup at her local. Not great, the overall message was. With comments like “Women’s football? That’s disgusting!” being thrown her way as she watched England play France those 11 years ago, how could it have been anything else?

There certainly remains an ugly, sexist disdain for women’s sport in some groups still (I’m not quite convinced we’ve conquered the problem of misogyny yet), but there does seem to be a shift happening. And the Women’s FIFA World Cup sits at the heart of it. With under a year to go until Australia and New Zealand host the women’s leg of the largest football event on Earth, there’s an energy in the air that’s palpable. Enough to suggest that there’s a lot of good brewing in the world of women’s sport, especially when it comes to football.

A particularly exciting part of that good brew is the birth of Legacy ’23 — Football Australia’s plan to bolster the community’s relationship with the game beyond the Women’s World Cup in 2023.

Football Australia intends to achieve that plan with five pillars: Participation, Community Facilities, Leadership and Development, Tourism and International Engagement and High Performance, along with a team of stellar ambassadors who are mighty keen to talk women’s football.

FIFA women's world cup legacy 23
Football Australia’s Legacy ’23 plan.

I spoke with Azmeena Hussain, Football Victoria Director and social justice advocate; Julie Dolan, the first-ever captain of the Matildas; Awer Mabil of the Socceroos; and Narelda Jacobs, NIAG Member and Channel 10 Presenter about the significance of the 2023 Women’s World Cup and women’s sport as a whole.

Here’s what they had to say.

Women’s football and the drive for change

women's world cup legacy 23
(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

For Julie Dolan, the journey for women’s football has been a long one, but she explained over email that there’s been “an amazing progression for the game” since her career began.

“Growing up, I started out playing on boys’ teams, as there was [sic] no other opportunities for young girls to play. While this didn’t discourage me, and was extremely beneficial for developing my game, this may have unfortunately deterred many young girls from reaching their potential in sports,” she shared.

“We’ve gone from no sponsorship, no fields to play on and no competition for women to, 40 odd years later, and the launch of the 2023 World Cup Bid with images of female football players on the Opera House.”

It’s her hope that the push to create more opportunity and more inclusion in football means “there will never again be any young girls in Australia that feel as though there are no opportunities for them to get involved in the sport they love because of their gender”.

Dolan went on to explain that we’re in a rare position right now. The Matildas are becoming household names, and with “the World Cup in our own backyard next year, Legacy ‘23 will ensure that it [progress] doesn’t stop there”.

Hussain agreed that the energy behind women’s football is being felt by many right now, and made it clear that this is an opportunity for all lovers of the world game.

“There really is this buzz amongst, not just women and girls, but also men and boys who now look up to the likes of women like Sam Kerr as inspiration… There are incredible women who are smashing stereotypes and really creating great opportunities to inspire women, girls and young boys,” she said.

“It [football] is such a powerful vehicle for social impact, for change.”

How do we get the goal?

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

We touched a little on the five pillars behind Legacy ’23 earlier, but what are the goals attached to those pillars?

Awer Mabil explained over email that some of the key aims of the plan include:

  • To increase participation of women and girls to meet 50:50 participation by 2027 (the intention is to attract 400,000+ new women and girls to the sport, with additional focus on opportunities for First Nations players and those from migrant communities).
  • Deliver more inclusive facilities and foster a more welcoming culture.
  • Optimise high performance and development pathways.
  • Build capacity in women’s leadership to shape the future of Australian sport.
  • Boost tourism, trade and international relations as Australia and New Zealand recover from the global pandemic.

But for him, the “ultimate goal” is simple:

“…for women to receive the recognition and support they deserve both on and off the pitch, and no longer feel that there are barriers to what they can achieve.”

Mabil went on to share that “Our female athletes are continuing to raise the bar and are making us as a nation and a football community very proud. It’s important we continue to give them the same opportunities as men and for them to receive the recognition they have so graciously earnt and deserve.”

Narelda Jacobs added here that the FIFA Women’s World Cup is “a chance to ask ourselves what are we actually proud of and what more can we do to make our country better?”

With all the eyeballs that are set to be turned towards our country, Jacobs stressed that we need to use the attention to “build female participation, community facilities, development pathways and leadership opportunities”.

But one thing that every Legacy ’23 ambassador I spoke to kept coming back to was the simple value of visibility. That age-old adage of ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ really rings true here.

“The more eyes we have watching the Women’s World Cup, the more eyes that see our amazing female athletes and skills that are on display,” Dolan said.

Increased visibility, she added, has the power to change “how female athletes are perceived”. 

And beyond that, it showcases the women involved in every part of the sport, not just those interacting with the ball.

“There’s so much potential to you know, unlock talent,” Hussain shared.

“[We can] create grassroot infrastructure to remove barriers for participation and really showcase the leadership of women on and off the pitch and in senior leadership and sports administration roles.

“I think it’s so important to keep in mind that it’s broader than just the players. There are wonderful opportunities to hear stories from women from all diverse backgrounds, whether they be coaches or referees, or the next generation of female footballers.”

Using the giant platform that is the Women’s World Cup — which reached 1.12 billion people in 2019 — is a chance to shine a spotlight on the incredible skill many have been overlooking for far too long.

And while there is a way to go yet, the progress that’s been made is nothing short of incredible. As Dolan put it:

“In my lifetime, I never thought I’d see a World Cup for women’s football. In just 40 years, here we are. It not only has its own tournament, the FIFA Women’s World Cup, but it will be also hosted on home soil. It’s such rewarding progress to see and provides me with so much hope for what we can achieve for women’s sport in the next 40 years.”

So, let’s keep the pressure on, yeah?

Tickets for the FIFA Women’s World Cup go on sale October 6, 2022. You can learn more about Legacy ’23 via the Football Australia website


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