What a month for women's sport!
It has been a brilliant tournament with record crowds. I was excited to read that by June, over 1 million tickets had been sold, with home attendance numbers for a women's football match in Australia breaking records on Wednesday night to watch the Matildas vie for a spot in the final against England. That match also ranked third in Women's World Cup history for attendance.
Those who couldn't attend appeared to have tuned in, with over 11 million viewers watching the broadcast from the couch. That's almost half the country! This ranked the broadcast as the highest- rating broadcast since the OzTAM audience measurement system was introduced in 2001, and it's not even counting those who chose to watch it via Optus Sport, at the pub or any of the other live sites across the country.
We've celebrated our Matildas. We've celebrated soccer. We've packed our stadiums. And it's a thrill to see the Australia I know and love doing what we know and love - demonstrating our passion for sport.
I have loved how the Matildas didn't have to bring home the cup for a nation to carry them upon collective shoulders as champions. They left everything they had out on the field and they really did do us proud. We love them for it.
Well, most of us do.
I was absolutely gobsmacked to read comment threads on Twitter over the weekend that spewed vitriol about participation trophies and claiming it was embarrassing to be celebrating the Matildas efforts when they "didn't even bring home the cup." It was petty and ridiculous and frankly, I really need to talk about it.
As a woman growing up in Australia in the 80s and 90s, sport was a huge part of my life. But women's sport didn't get the air time to give me heroes to look up to, to make me believe that there was a career for me in sport.
I wanted to be a sports journalist when I was a teenager, but if you know of a bigger boys' club than sport, I'd be surprised. Tracey Holmes was the first female host of a national sports program, Grandstand for the ABC in 1989. Caroline Wilson also began her career in the 1980s covering numerous sports, but with a special focus on AFL, actually wining the AFL's gold media award in 1989 as the first woman to do so. Girls didn't even have an Aussie rules comp to play in when I was at school.
As time has gone by, the tiny select group of women breaking the glass ceiling of sports media for the generations to come has grown. And our footprint on the sporting world has become deeper.
Watching men in the crowds of the Matildas match, wearing their merchandise, yelling and screaming and waving flags alongside women, celebrating diversity, bringing people together who had never even been soccer fans prior to the World Cup - it was the very definition of magic.
I've always felt like women's sport has been treated like it's the B -grade. The second class. Not the cream of the crop, but you know, they're pretty good, sort of thing: "it's just like soccer only women."
They have made this World Cup so much more than just a soccer tournament: it's become a coming-of-age story. The Matildas aren't new, you've only just noticed them, they've been representing you since 1978.
They have been working hard in the background with limited resources, sponsorship, support and, yep, pay, literally for decades. And yet they have qualified for every Women's FIFA World Cup since 1995, they have reached the quarter finals in 2007, 2011 and 2015, and they reached a FIFA world ranking of fourth in 2017. Despite sitting at 10th in the world going into the 2023 tournament, they made it further than they ever have before, beating higher ranking teams to make it to the semis in some gripping football moments that will be remembered for years to come.
The parades and the accolades aren't about coming fourth. It's about a nation finally seeing the Matildas for who and what they are, and forging a very special place in our sporting history pages for them that is a culmination of almost 50 years of blood, sweat and tears, shed in the name of Australia.
Participation trophy? Pfft. They didn't just show up. They won the hearts of a proud nation.
- Zoë Wundenberg is a careers consultant and un/employment advocate at impressability.com.au, and a regular columnist for ACM.