There’s something about the Matildas: how the Tillies have made Aussie fans feel mighty and seen.

Credit: Jason Charters | Unsplash

The 2023 Women’s World Cup has highlighted how the Matildas have the midas touch for bringing Aussies together and making them feel mighty and seen – and it’s not only girls and women’s soccer that have come out on top.

Coach Tony Gustavsson said, “The players represent so much more than 90 mins of football”, after their historic win against France in the longest Women’s World Cup penalty shootout.

As a giant spotlight has been cast on the team, Australian fans and the media have fallen in love with celebrating them for their qualities and efforts both on and off the field.

Credit: Carlos de Toro | Unsplash

Pride on show:

“As a group, we represent the values reflective of Australia, including acceptance and inclusivity, regardless of sexuality, ethnicity and culture.”

This statement from the Matildas in 2021 has particular significance today.

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar saw the banning of symbols like OneLove armbands, rainbow flags and clothing, greatly upsetting players and fans alike.

Cut to the 2023 Women’s World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand, and they witnessed more than 96% of openly LGBTQA+ players and coaches. While team captains were allowed to wear ‘Unite for Inclusion’ armbands, similar to the OneLove armbands, they were created not to reflect the rainbow colours that represent Pride.

Nonetheless, the Matildas, who have twelve players in same-sex relationships, have supported the LQBTQA+ community in other ways, bypassing some of FIFA’s rules and restrictions.

The players’ numbers on the back of their jerseys had been adorned with the colours of the Progress Pride flag in their match against Spain during the Cup of Nations in February 2023. More recently, during the 2023 World Cup, the team trained with a Progress Pride flag hanging in their gym. These gestures, shared widely on social media throughout the tournament, gained thousands of likes and shares by the public.

“It’s always nice for the team to stand in unity and show that we’re all together and stand with all these communities that maybe don’t get seen as much as they should,” said captain Sam Kerr.

Credit: Mizuno K | Pexels

What the Tillies make fans feel:

Ella, 26, said: “There are a lot of queer women in sports. I think Sam Kerr has been a fantastic role model for young queer people. Many fans of the sport are queer also, and I think that showing Pride through arm bands etc shows people that the sport is an open and inclusive space, one in which they’d be safe to participate.”

Leonie, 45, said: “The 2023 Women’s World Cup having Australia’s wide attention legitimises women’s sport. The tendency among men is to think of women’s sports as the lesser version of the man’s equivalent…

Young girls seeing women on that stage gives them something to aspire to. It’s common for young boys to want to be like Nathan Cleary, and it’s good for girls to have that. And worldwide attention means things like funding, and it allows young girls to have athletics as a career path to strive for and not just a hobby.”

Credit: Flickr | Pexels

Paving the way forward:

After the 2023 Women’s World Cup, the captain of the Tillies announced that she started a foundation called Sam Kerr Football, offering world-class training for young soccer enthusiasts aged between 3 and 14.  

Kerr issued this statement to her 1.7 million followers:

“Being in a position I am in today, I want to give back to the sport I love and to my young fans.”

Those young fans are watching and listening.

According to the head of NSW Women’s Football and Schools, Hayley Todd, there has been a 37% spike in female soccer participation since 2013. Still, there is an estimation that figures will double for next season due to the Matildas’ positive influence on women and girls, to possibly 3000 new registrations.

Though the number of participants has climbed the most in the last three to four years, following the 2023 Women’s World Cup, there are hopes that female players will soon be able to match the boys’ team. 50-50, finally.

That could 100% be attributed to the Matildas’ stellar performance, both on and off the field.

Natasa Aster-Stater

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