IN this special opinion piece on soccer, Football West CEO James Curtis explains why we need more female-friendly facilities to support the increasing number of women playing “The World Game”.
THE football community in Western Australia should be in good spirits heading into 2019.
The world game is flourishing in Australia and WA.
And if the results of a nationwide study released in 2018 are a guide, the upwards curve is set to continue for a long time yet.
Australian Sports Commission figures show football is by far the most popular team sport in the country.
Indeed, almost twice as many children under 15 play football as play its nearest rival Aussie Rules.
Numbers are strong
The AusPlay Survey simply backs up what our football community already knew: Our numbers are strong, particularly with growth of female players in WA.
We have almost 20,000 female players involved across all Football West activities and female football in WA has seen a growth of more than 40 per cent since 2009.
Perhaps more relevant is the 24 per cent growth for girls over the past four years, an incredible expansion. From the youngsters in the ALDI MiniRoos classes to the elite of the Women’s Premier Division and on to our fledgling Women’s Masters competition, female football is delivering on all fronts.
This was recognised recently when the WA government asked players from the all-conquering Women’s Premier champions Queens Park to front its 16 Days in WA to Stop Violence Against Women campaign. The profile of players such as Kat Jukic, Tia Stonehill and Jaymee Gibbons is reaching far and wide and further justifies why, in a national first for an Australian member federation, Football West developed a Female Football Plan for 2018-2022 alongside our Strategic Plan.
However, with the growth comes expectation and this why we cannot become complacent. The infrastructure has to be in place to support players coming through.
Investment in community facilities is one area that needs to be addressed. The majority of clubs deliver programs to more than 1000 people each week during the season and more than half identified facilities investment as a key factor in supporting the community football.
With over 190 clubs having female players in WA, there is a strong demand for upgrading facilities to be female friendly.
More than 70 per cent of females in football want increased government investment and improved facilities. Females dissatisfied with facilities are 22 per cent less likely to be satisfied with their club and 36 per cent less likely to be satisfied with the standard of football. Those figures cannot be ignored.
Which brings us squarely to the case for a State Football Centre to further harness the sport’s growth. With over 230,000 people engaged in the game in WA, access to world class facilities in a purpose-built training centre means we can continue to cater for the demand from right across the community. Without it we risk missing out.
Women’s and men’s premier leagues, state team trials, inclusion programs, skill programs for our youngsters, exchange programs, coaching courses, volunteer development, referee workshops…the benefit for the local game is endless. And it goes further.
In the past two years alone, we have hosted the Matildas, Socceroos, Chelsea, Persebaya, Singapore, Thailand Women’s Team and many others in WA.
Each time it has been a battle to provide an experience that respects the strength of WA football in Australia and Asia.
Our recent three-year partnership with Shanghai FA demonstrates what WA football has to offer.
Facilities investment to ensure that community does not miss out on participation is crucial, and Football West is working with our 248 clubs to ensure that each club has an inclusive culture to reflect the world game in WA.
The cross-community appeal of football is a massive asset and is unmatched in Australia.
Finally, I would like to pay tribute to the tireless volunteer support without whom clubs could not operate. Be it canteen and bar staff, ground staff or the people working the gate. These people provide an invaluable service.
This is particularly so in regional WA, which represents 23 per cent of our membership base, where it is not uncommon for club presidents and secretaries to take on two, three or even four roles in both their own club and the league in general. Support these people, they are the lifeblood of our sport.
This year will present challenges and opportunities: Our biggest challenge is to ensure that we support the growth of the game and that no one in the community misses out on an opportunity to participate. But they are challenges football is uniquely placed to meet.