The past 12 months have been historic for women’s football. The 2015 FIFA World Cup broke new ground with more than 750 million viewers tuning in. The Matildas created history when they became the first senior Australian team to win a knockout stage match at the World Cup.
At the grassroots level, both at home and abroad, participation rates have soared with football now surpassing netball as the most played team sport in Australia for girls aged 6-13. The women’s game is indeed being powered into unchartered territory.
Despite this, off the pitch female footballers around the world have had to battle for respect and parity, and have been forced to resort to extreme measures to make headway. The Matildas had to take unprecedented industrial action to achieve some level of fair pay. They have now been followed by the US national women’s team in taking action, with the current world champions filing a federal complaint accusing the governing body of wage discrimination, with players earning as little as 40% of what their male counterparts earn in the US men’s team.
It is often money that makes the headlines in the media, but this is not the only source of disparity between male and female players. The Professional Footballers Association (PFA) recently released its 2015/16 W-League Injury Report and it contained some frightening findings:
- 132% rise in the number of games missed due to injury and
- a doubling in the number of games missed due to knee injuries when compared to the previous season
- In total, 174 games were missed as a result of injury in a competition that runs for just 14 rounds
For those with experience in the competition, this is not likely to come as a surprise. The PFA recently completed a survey regarding the workplace conditions in the W-League. Whilst the data analysis is only at its initial stages, the findings paint a picture of players regularly being denied minimum workplace conditions such as change rooms, safe training and playing surfaces and basic medical care. Some players reported that they were forced to change on a bus after a game because there were no facilities available to them. What type of medical care can they get on a bus to assess and manage any issues they may have after the game?
This is simply unacceptable.
The PFA has long campaigned for the introduction of minimum medical standards for the W-League. Having resulted in an immediate 68% decrease in the number of games missed due to injury in the A-League following their introduction in 2011, the minimum medical standards would include:
- medical testing prior to the commencement of each season;
- all clubs having certified specialist sports physicians;
- detailed player medical records being kept by clubs;
- the right for players to seek a second medical opinion;
- registered physiotherapists available at each club prior to and after training and matches; and
- all club trainers holding a Sport Trainer Level 2 from Sports Medicine Australia and / or a tertiary qualification in Sports Conditioning.
The evidence from the A-League is clear - the introduction of minimum medical standards has helped keep players on the pitch, something that is in the best interests of all. The players will no longer accept excuses, these help no one. The game has an obligation to ensure the wellbeing of all players and this is non-negotiable.
Australian football has the ability to be a leader on the issue of gender equity, and the introduction of minimum medical standards is an important step in showing the nation’s elite female players that they are respected and valued.
The disparity between the nation’s elite male and female players is simply unacceptable and it is time show that the women’s game and it players are a priority.