Australian Football League says women to receive prize money equal to men

MELBOURNE, Australia — The screams have faded from Stadium Australia, the scarves returned to drawers, the TV has gone back to regular programming.

The FIFA women’s World Cup is over, and even though the co-host finished fourth in the tournament, it injected into Australia a new fervor for women’s sports. Some have wondered whether that can be maintained and if there will be a lasting impact on their favorite games at home.

An early answer came this week when the Australian Football League, the governing body for Australian rules football, the hugely popular sport played almost entirely within Australia’s borders, announced there would be equal prize money for the men’s and women’s leagues. This means the prize money for the women’s league will almost double to $708,000.

This was “something that probably came off the back of the FIFA women’s World Cup and the excitement and mainstream coverage that we’re now seeing,” said Gen Dohrmann, president of the not-for-profit advocacy group Women Sport Australia.

Following the massive support for the women’s national soccer team, the Matildas, during the World Cup, the government has made a slew of commitments to invest in women’s sport.

Australia, which hosted the tournament with New Zealand, broke domestic TV viewing and FIFA women’s attendance records, packing stadiums and public viewing sites throughout the month-long event.

Soccer shocker: Australians, a nation of rugby league fans, fall for football

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Saturday that $128 million would go toward improving sporting facilities and equipment for women and girls; state governments have also promised millions.

“The Matildas have given us a moment of national inspiration. This is about seizing that opportunity for the next generation,” Albanese said.

But, at least in some sports, gender equality is still a long way off Down Under.

Despite the increase in prize money, the AFL governing body invested less than 15 percent of what it gave to men’s clubs into the women’s game last year, said Matthew Klugman, associate professor of sport studies at Victoria University in Melbourne: $29 million vs. $217 million.

“It’s a small face-saving move,” he said. “It should be addressing what the players have been asking for, which is for a longer season and better pay.”

Female players were paid a salary of between $26,000 and $46,000 last season, and many players hold second jobs. Men, meanwhile, were paid an average of $261,000 and were allocated a season more than twice as long.

Kate McCarthy, an assistant coach with the Western Bulldogs AFL Women’s team who played seven seasons in the AFLW, said the equal prize money was “a step forward,” but less important than a longer season and a professional salary.

No players at her club were able to play full time, she said — at the most recent training, one missed practice because she couldn’t get out of work. “I think women’s soccer has shown what quality of product you can get when money is invested,” she said.

It’s a similar story in rugby union, according to some of the players on the women’s team, the Wallaroos.

Several posted an open statement addressed to the governing body Rugby Australia on social media on Sunday, crediting the Matildas for demonstrating the impact of women’s sport.

“You told us flying anything other than economy was too costly. Then you flew [men’s rugby team] the Wallabies business class on a trip shorter than ours,” the statement read.

“You told us full-time contracts were in the pipeline, that there wasn’t enough money to keep the men in the game, let alone us. Then you paid $5 million [U.S. $3.2 million] for one NRL player,” it continued, calling for “adequate resources,” a full-time coach and professionalization of the women’s game.

This is the gayest World Cup ever (and no one’s batting an eyelid)

Rugby Australia said it was “taking steps toward a fully professional future for the Wallaroos and investing more broadly in women’s rugby across national and community competitions — and we know we have a way to go,” according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Dohrmann said the best example of a sporting body in Australia committing to gender equality was soccer, overseen by Football Australia: “They have a vision to have equal representation,” she said.

That was not always the case. In 2015, the Matildas went on strike.

At the time, the national team was mostly paid about $14,000. They secured an increase to $26,000, won equal pay with the men’s national soccer team in 2019, and now make a minimum $64,000.

Klugman said the fight for equality and the professionalization of the women’s game was “one of the key lessons from the Matildas.”

As for the Australian public, it certainly seems they enjoy watching women’s sport. The most watched television programs for the past two years were women’s games.

The Matildas’ World Cup semifinal loss to England last week was the most-watched program in more than two decades. Last year, women’s tennis took the crown: more Australians watched their own Ash Barty win the Australian Open final than any other TV showing.

The Australian Football League Women’s game has not, however, been as popular. For the AFLW, an average match drew 53,000 TV viewers in the most recent season, reportedly about a tenth as many as the men’s game.

McCarthy, the assistant coach, hopes with more investment and planning that domestic women’s sport can capture the same momentum.

“I was completely blown away at the support for the Matildas throughout the World Cup,” she said. “I would never have imagined anyone supporting any women’s sport like that. I really hope that it changes a lot of people’s perceptions on women’s sport and how successful it can or can’t be.”