Saturday Serve

Confusing ... the Matildas' request for a male coach.

Confusing ... the Matildas' request for a male coach. Photo: AP

We need to talk about gender. In an era of equal opportunity, breaking glass ceilings and prime ministerial speeches calling out misogyny, there are still examples of sexism which leave me flabbergasted.

The story that some members of the Matildas soccer team wanted a male coach - and went so far as to put that preference in writing - was one I would rather not have written.

It is sometimes easier to sweep these things under the rug and pretend they never happened; certainly people in the world of women's football would have liked me to.

But ultimately that would be doing women a disservice.

The notion that some young women believe they would be in such better hands with a male mentor than a female, that they would go so far as to write to the FFA to state that preference, took me some time to get my head around.

It's something which needs to be discussed.

There is something going wrong if the current generation of our best female footballers have never had a female coach they respect and trust with their sporting career.

I've had many coaches in many sports, mostly male, some outstanding, some ordinary, but without a doubt the best, the most talented and inspiring, and the one I respected the most was female.

She made me wish I'd had more women coaching me over the years.

So on one hand I can understand experience leading to a gender preference, and for the last eight years Tom Sermanni has led the Matildas he's obviously created an environment the players appreciate, have been comfortable with and excelled in.

I can empathise with the desire of players to keep that environment as similar as possible to what it was; perhaps they envisage a new friendly, crossword-loving Scotsman in charge.

But I worry that their breadth of experience is so narrow as to not enable an imagining of a world beyond that.

To me it's a clear sign there is not enough diversity in the football coaching ranks, a situation which needs to be addressed at all levels.

Not least because today's top female players are potentially tomorrow's top coaches, but run the very real risk there will be nowhere to put their skills into practice.

Part of me feels that is cause enough to appoint a female coach of the Matildas; to influence a change in attitude from the top down.

But part of me thinks choosing on gender is fraught, particularly when it has become such a hot topic of debate.

No one wants to be seen as a token hire, no matter how many credentials you have to back up the appointment.

With the outstanding international female candidates rumoured to be in the running for the Matildas job it's hard to see any argument of tokenism sustained, but the international candidates are well ahead of Australia.

When you bring experience into the criteria there are few Australian women who would fit the bill for the top job, and none is known to have made the shortlist.

Regardless of who gets the job, it's at the grass roots and development level where Australia needs to do its best to ensure more women on the sideline.

Give the promising ones a chance, let them show the next generation of players how much they have to offer while developing their own leadership and coaching skills.

The reality is there will likely be fewer about, but give those ones a go and give them time, mentoring and whatever else you would afford the promising male equivalent.

It's important we normalise the involvement of women to the point where players don't feel so threatened by the unknown prospect of being coached by a fellow woman that they write to their governing body.

For as long as women are not given a look-in at coaching roles in men's teams, there needs to be a pathway through the glass ceiling.