So by now, I'm sure all you female football fans have heard the great news. If you haven't already over at The Women's Game, SBS, the ABC, the AFC or others that are covering the news, this year the Matildas will start to recieve match payments and have new and improved contracts with Football Federation Australia. So what does it mean? GWG has a stab at telling you.
THE CONTRACTS - In case you missed it, the story is this. For this year's Women's Asian Cup, a minimum of the 23-players in the Matildas squad will all receive six-month contracts. They will range in salary, but the top few players will earn $17,000. All players will then receive between $500 and $1000 for each game they play. It's the first-time ever the Matildas will be paid match-payments. The Professional Footballer's Associtation played a huge role in the negotiations to get this far, particularly with the Matildas players representatives, Melissa Barbieri, Kate McShea, Lauren Colthorpe, Sarah Walsh and Heather Garriock.
WHAT THEY SAID - PFA chief executive Brendan Schwab,“We are determined to work with FFA to make football the sport of choice for elite athletes of both genders,” Mr Schwab said. “This agreement is a significant step towards the development of a professional career path for our best women footballers.”
“The new arrangements are a significant improvement on the previous agreement and are a result of constructive negotiations between all parties. As well as an increase in payments there are some other new conditions that will make being a Westfield Matilda much more beneficial.”
Matildas and Brisbane Roar defender Kate McShea, "It's guaranteed income which will hopefully help us focus more on football," McShea said. "We'll still have financial worries but they'll be a bit less of a burden.
"Our entire budget is probably what one Socceroo gets but in terms of female sports we're sitting pretty good. We've definitely come a long way."
WHAT IT MEANS - The immediate benefit - The Matildas 2011 World Cup qualifying campaign, which starts in May in China. In a year where they are focusing on trying to qualify for a FIFA Women's World Cup, the players can now spend a bit more time doing that than having to work to earn a living.
It also means the Australian's that played in overseas leagues last year, Heather Garriock, Sarah Walsh, Lisa de Vanna, Collette McCallum, Katie Gill and Lydia Williams, will not be so much out of pocket if they do stay at home instead of returning to the professional teams they belong to overseas. They could be earning actual enough to live-on wages in the Women's Pro League in America, or in Gill's case, Sweden. So this new Australian contract will at least help them pay the bills while they focus on getting Australia to a FIFA Women's World Cup.
The incentive - The contract will also be able to give Tom Sermanni an incentive for which to garner commitment. For example, after 2007 World Cup Thea Slatyer took some time off football. She played the first W-League season but then went travelling overseas, before coming back right at the end of the season and ended-up playing 30minutes for Canberra in one game. But if Tom Sermanni wants Thea Slatyer in his team, and as pretty much the only starting defender left from that 2007 World Cup team I'm sure he does, Slatyer will need to commit to a contract. Before those involved in the Australian set-up didn't have anything to really keep player's in the system for, apart from a love of the game. That can get hard to keep-up if you have a full-time job, plus a partner or family to contend with. Canberra United midfielder Grace Gill once said to me "I wonder how many men would keep playing if they weren't being paid for it?" and it's a quote I bring up again and again. Of course, they still need a love for the game. But it must be so much easier to love the game if it loves you back a little bit.
The career pathway - I think this announcement isn't just about the current players, although it is great for them, but it's about the impact it has for the players in the future.
For this argument, let's not even touch the old women versus men topic, because that's probably never going to change, but let's just talk about the female sporting landscape in Australia.
What do I mean there? Well, After the old WNSL collapsed and football was in no-women's land for four-years, Australian cricket, basketball and netball made steady increases.
The WNBL continues to be a strong league, none more so than this year where a host of Opals returning to the league means the title-race is right-open.
The WNCL has added two new women's teams this year, the ACT and Tasmania (although Tassie were just in the Twenty20) and has had national annual contracts for its players for years.
Netball has had a huge overhaul, with the old Commonwealth Bank trophy replaced by the Trans-Tasman competition with half and half Australian and New Zealand teams. Given that netball is the second-biggest sport behind Rugby Union in NZ, it was a smart move. The TV rights deal allowed them to struck a semi-professional league for women, with a minimum wage of $10,000 for a six-month contract. But most players are on more. Now more players from Australia are going to NZ to play as well.
Overall in terms of gaining a career in the sport, cricket and netball are still limited because the sports aren't played that widely across the world.
Football however is more like basketball, it's played almost everywhere, and basketball which has done a very good job of making a career pathway for its players in Australia. Apart from the individual sports (golf, swimming and tennis) do you know many Aussie women making a career from their sport? Well yes, there are some and most of them play basketball. Lauren Jackson is one player that does earn her entire living from her sport and playing in the USA, Korea and then Russia allowed her to do that.
There have been overseas female football leagues for years, but because Australia didn't have a national league, there was nowhere to really learn at a high-level and make a case to those European teams or American college scouts in football. Some players have done it, but it wasn't easy.
But now at least football is starting to get on par with providing that international pathway like basketball.
And as the fastest growing sport for women to play in Australia, there is now reward for making the top level. This new deals, and the promise that another deal will be negotiated in June to take the Matildas through to 2012, are the next step towards professionalism for Australia's footballing females. And yay for that!