"We just have to do it, it’s the right thing to do".
Those words were spoken to me 15 years ago. I can still see the room, the meeting room where this conversation was taking place. I hear those words over and over in my head. I still recall feeling amazed that I was hearing these words, but so delighted because this was a conversation about money and about wages for the men’s national team and the women’s national team.
15 years ago, the Socceroos and the Matildas, earned a daily allowance, so when they were called into training camps or for matches, they each earned a daily allowance. Now the Maltidas had only started to be paid a daily allowance a couple of years earlier. A man called Allan Vessey, who was a senior executive at Soccer Australia at the time and I were having this conversation and with those words and the stroke of a pen, Allan increased the Matildas daily allowance to equal the Socceroos.
So, there you have it ladies and gentlemen, you have the scoop from 15 years ago. The men’s and women’s national team was earning the same amount of money.
Now Allan did that, he was in a position to actually follow through on that promise, and for the women, it meant a huge amount, it was more than double what they were earning at the time.
So you can imagine, he’s a, I guess, I’ll refer to Allan I guess as an early male champion of change, before the male champion of change name even existed. It was a gender equality moment I guess that no one would be, or very few people would be aware of and it happened 15 years ago.
Now just imagine if during that 15 years wages were considered equally for men and women over that time in this space. Unfortunately, it didn’t continue. When Allan was gone, other factors came into play. And the Socceroos wages as we all know, they are very highly paid team now, took off, Matildas wages lagged behind. It has improved a lot recently, but there is still a large gap at this point in time.
You heard from the introduction that I’m just back from Russia this year. Every time there’s a World Cup, which happens every 4 years, FIFA, the international body, appoint what they call a General Coordinator. Doesn’t really mean much the name, but a General Coordinator in summary is like a venue manager. We oversee all the operations in a particular venue for a World Cup.
And I was appointed to Kaliningrad. Now this year’s Men’s world Cup was the 21st World Cup. For the first 20 World Cups, not one female had been appointed to the role of general coordinator. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to be given that opportunity this year to be the first female working at a Men’s Senior World Cup in a General Coordinator role.
The General Coordinator is the highest FIFA ranked position in a particular venue. And I should say, equal first, my good friend Priscilla who lives in the Netherlands and I were appointed this year, there’s 12 General Coordinators, so 12 venues in Russia. And there was two women for the first time.
Now before I get onto more about the World Cup, I just want to give you a bit of a snapshot of women working in football. At the moment we know that there’s an increasing number of female referees. They are working mostly in the women’s game, but there are female referees moving into the men’s game as well, so there’s been lots of positive steps.
There’s female coaches starting to move more into the elite space. Again, mostly with women’s teams, there’s a couple of females around the world who are working in the men’s space. The numbers could improve, but we’re getting more women moving into coaching roles.
At this year’s World Cup, you may have read about the Croatian team manager. Croatia made the final, and their team manager was a female, Iva. Spain also had a female team manager.
And now that’s me signaling, about to signal the start of a game. We have female GCs working in the men’s World Cup.
FIFA has a female General Secretary. For the first time, there’s a female General Secretary at FIFA. And in Australia we have a deputy CEO of the PFA, which is the Players Union. So if you have a look at that snapshot of women working in football. We know women play football now, Matildas are an amazing example of that, and lots of young girls are moving into football. Women’s football is the fastest growing part of the football family.
You look at that snapshot and you think, hey things are not too bad, this is looking okay. But the reality is females in football in senior positions, in decision making roles, as presidents of committees, it’s a very lonely job. There’s not many of them.
At the moment FFA has one female board member and one female left on their senior management team. Now that may change, because you may have read in the press there’s recent reforms with the committee who have come in and are making changes - so that that will change probably in November when they have their AGM - but that’s the current situation.
Around the country the member federations, so each state has a member federation. There’s not one female CEO. Not one female chair. And the A-League Clubs, the 10 A-League Clubs, not one female CEO.
On the member federation boards around the country, it’s a little better. On the committees, there’s 15 women and 47 men. So it’s around about 24%, so that’s looking a little more like it. But the reality is, it’s pretty lonely for females in senior roles in football.
But you know what? The key message is, the women are there. There are women who have worked in football for umpteen years in all various roles, in clubs and other sporting organisations. And because they’ve worked there for so long, often in a volunteer capacity, they have so much knowledge to offer and so much to give and we just need to, we, us, you our sporting organisations, we need to empower these women, I call them the unseen women. We need to empower them into and encourage them into roles where they can make decisions and influence our sport.
I really believe that women in leadership roles in football will have a huge flow on effect with regards to playing opportunities for girls, refereeing opportunities for women, coaching and in all spheres of football. So gender equality is—I know it’s a target of FFA to reach 50/50 by 2026. And I fully believe that this should be happening at every level right from grassroots, right through to the elite.
Just a little bit about my background. I started in football a bit by accident really. I did it a Degree in Sports Science at the University of Canberra and like any good sports science student, my first job was in administration. Not too many science jobs around. At the time I worked at the ACT Women’s Soccer, so this was in 1997. Back then the National Federation and the State Federations all had separate men’s and women’s bodies. That did start to change about 5 years later but at that time there was an ACT soccer association, which was men. And then an ACT women’s soccer, association.
From there, I went and worked at the AIS for a couple years, but then after that I was very fortunate to get a job at the AWSA, the Australian Women’s Soccer Association in 2000. It was in February 2000. So 8 months before the Sydney Olympics. So my role there was high performance manager, which was essentially the Matildas manager.
So a very steep learning curve. And I ended up being Matildas manager for 13 years. So many great experiences. I miss being part of the team, it is, becomes like your family. Traveling with the players and the support staff. But after 13 years, I had a young son to bring up and so being away for 200 days a year wasn’t really conducive to family life so I was very fortunate that internally at FFA I was able to move across and become general manager of the Westfield W league, which is the national league for women, equivalent to the A league.
I’m now very happy working at Football NSW as Women and Girls Development Manager, but I am also now transitioning into another role at Football New South Wales, more to do with strategy across the business. But obviously my passion is with women’s football.
Now there’s another quote that has stayed with me over the years. And this one, I guess resonates just as strongly as Allan’s quote early on. “No one wants to watch women’s football, Jo.” So remember I was in the elevator with this man. It was about 10 years ago or so. And I think it was a moment, it was like a Homer moment, I looked at him and thought did you really mean to say that? Did you just think it and you really didn’t mean to say it? But I was Matildas manager as the time and he said, no one wants to watch women’s football, Jo.
Really? This is an obscure example, but this is from the under 17 Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica, 2014. Under 17, so you’re talking about 16 and 17 year old girls. I’ve got a crowd of more than 10,000 people there at that event. They had about 3 or 4 times where the national stadium was sold out. They had 30,000 people watching under 17 girls.
No one wants to watch women’s football. I think that man can eat his words.
Closer to home, the Matildas, a couple of a years ago, played at Penrith on the outskirts of Sydney. The match sold out before the match even happened. So it was a sell-out. Again, no one wants to watch women’s football.
Numerous other examples from around the world. 100,000 in Mexico watching the women’s team there. 70,000 at Wembley in England watching the English team before the last World Cup. There’s an appetite. There is definitely an appetite out there for women’s football.
But those words for me highlight I guess attitudes and maybe entrenched beliefs from a long period of time. And because of that I think we’ve missed a few opportunities over the years. This is a photo from the 2004 Olympics Games. The Matildas actually made it to the quarter finals. Made a little blip on the radar, but that was about it. It didn’t last terribly long.
This photo is from the 2007 women’s World Cup. The Matildas won their first ever game at a women’s World Cup and had just made the quarter finals. This image actually made the front and back pages around the country. And we’re like yes, we’ve finally turned a corner here. For a few months they did get some great publicity, but unfortunately it just died down again. Same thing in 2011, the Matildas again made the quarter finals of the Women’s World Cup. Missed opportunities to actually promote, and ongoing promotion and recognition for the team. It also did not result in any real major commercial return.
It’s fantastic now, I'm so pleased to see the Matildas are now household names, it has been a long time coming.
Another missed opportunity like I said was the wages. That wage inequality now it could have been handled over the 15 years, if we had had equal wages considered for men and women we would be in a very different space now. And another area I think we have missed opportunities is actually providing, we’ve actually encouraged and enabled a number of women to go through refereeing courses, coaching courses, and to become qualified in those spaces. But the problem is we haven’t necessarily provided opportunities for them once they’ve become qualified. It’s like a Catch 22, people want someone who's has got experience, but if a female who has got those qualifications, can’t get the experience to start with, then what happens? So we do have a number of females who have got these qualifications, but there’s actually nowhere for them to go.
Just getting back, I referred to the male champions of change before, I love the concept. I think it’s a great idea. Men have to stand up. Men definitely have to make a stand to encourage and try and equalise men and women in football. But we also need to recognise the female champions of change. Over the years, for a much longer period, women have been pushing this agenda, particularly in football but I think in a lot of sports as well. So maybe we should just be calling it the champions of change.
Now just a little bit about more about my FIFA experience. I’ve been doing this work for 10 years, it is a contract role, so this year working in Russia was my 8th FIFA event. It’s been a fantastic—every event has special times. It’s just an amazing experience to be able to work in a really condensed period of time with a really tight team of people. We go in, we get to know everyone in about a day and then we kind of live and breathe football together for the next month.
So a number of those experiences. For example, in 2010 I worked at the Youth Olympics in Singapore and couple of things there. There was another male champion of change, a tournament director at FIFA said, hey come along, bring your husband and your son, because at the time I just had a baby who was 7 months old, but he said, no bring them along. You can do what you have to do there and then work as a GC at the Singapore Youth Olympics.
And then another point at that event, it was an under 15 event, it was the first time that a team wore a hijab in a FIFA event and that was Iran.
In 2014 I mentioned Costa Rica. How did they sell out those stadiums? Well, what they did is had an amazing marketing campaign and realistic ticket prices. In 2015, that’s a photo of me there, I was very honoured to be appointed to Vancouver at the Women’s World Cup and that was where the final was held. That final between USA and Japan, is my understanding is still the most watched football or they call it soccer game in US history. Men or women.
So again it makes me think of those words, no one wants to watch women’s football Jo. In 2017, I think this is where things changed for FIFA. No female had any worked at any FIFA event before as a GC. We had 2 women that year appointed to the under 20 Men’s World Cup and the under 17 Men’s World Cup. And I was very proud again to be appointed to India and I was in Kolkata which is the venue where the final was held. Again, another amazing experience.
And Russia. I think given this was the 21st Men’s World Cup, it was like a coming of age for FIFA to appoint female (GCs) for the first time. So many things to talk about for Russia, maybe we have to talk about it over a cup of tea or coffee later, but a couple of points that were highlighted to me by being there. And I have to use our own team. This is the Socceroos going to the World Cup in 2014. Had around 20 support staff. And one woman. This is the Socceroos team going to the 2018 World Cup. The number of support staff has grown to around about 32. And still one woman.
There’s no reason at all why more females cannot be involved in support staff roles. This is in contrast to some of the teams that came through Kaliningrad, as I mentioned, Croatia and Spain had female team managers. England, I’m sure about a 1/3 of their backroom staff were female, cause every time people were coming up and asking me questions, I was dealing with just as many women as I was with men.
So come on Australia, we’ve got to do better. And you know what? The Matildas are not off the hook either. This is 2007, we are a lean machine, we only had 10 support staff, but we had 4 females. In 2016, the support staff numbers had grown. But the ratio of women has actually gone down. And I think the support staff numbers now for the Matildas with their success has gone up, but the ratio of females in the support staff team has still not increased.
We need to make sure we give opportunities to females in football, in both the men’s and the women’s game.
So just to close, there has been some big steps made in football with regards to women’s inclusion and involvement. I have to acknowledge that for sure, but there is still a long way to go. The women are out there, we just have to find them and empower them to get into decision making roles. If they are in leadership roles, then the benefits for players, for referees, for coaches, for the whole game will be realised.
15 years ago Allan Vessey equalised the wages for the Socceroos and the Matildas. He made a very powerful statement, that the women’s national team was just as important as the men’s national team. That females were valued as highly as males. It was then and it remains now the right thing to do.