Win or lose on Wednesday night, the Matildas had already captured the hearts of a nation.
Since their first kick-off against Ireland nearly a month ago, the Matildas have been playing to win not only the World Cup, but respect for women’s sport, and for the world to see why this team – and women athletes the world over – deserve fair and equitable pay and conditions.
Along the way, they’ve fulfilled a legacy that goes all the way back to 1978, when the first Australian women’s national football team was established.
It’s the Matildas commitment to unionism and solidarity – as well as their skills with the ball – that sets them apart, particularly as one of the only national women’s football teams covered by a hard fought-for collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
But it hasn’t been an easy journey to get here.
A history of unionism leading to phenomenal success
In 1993, Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) was established, with twin objective to support the players and build the game.
They’ve worked hard over the last 30 years to drive change in the industry, making tough decisions and taking bold actions along the way – not least of which includes going on strike in 2015: despite achieving a history-making, best-ever performance by an Australian football team (at the time!), in reaching the quarter finals at the World Cup in Canada earlier that year, the Matildas were still fighting for payments that would barely qualify as the minimum wage.
Their collective action worked. Within two months, the PFA and Football Australia had struck a new CBA with vastly improved pay conditions for both the top and base contracts for the Matildas.
Their tenacity didn’t end there though – in 2019 they secured another landmark CBA that closed the pay gap between the Socceroos and Matildas; a world-first for women’s football.
Before that pay deal, players had to rely on juggling their playing careers with second jobs just to get by: Alanna Kennedy held down a job at Pizza Hut, Katrina Gorry worked as a teacher’s aide and Caitlin Foord was an Uber driver.
Now, thanks to their collective power, they can focus exclusively on the sport, and this has no doubt contributed to their stunning World Cup success this year.
Kate Gill, former Matildas star, became the Co-Chief Executive for the PFA in 2020, and has played a vital role in leading the drive for better pay rates and conditions for the Matildas:
“There are only a handful of countries that have secured collective agreements that deliver world-class conditions and standards.
Each of those countries, including Australia, has achieved these standards through players fighting for progress – often over decades and through significant industrial action.”
Far-reaching achievements on and off the field
The Matildas have come so far in recent years, but the fight continues on a global level: football’s international governing body, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (better known as FIFA) still offers the Men’s World Cup champions four times the prize money that is offered to the winners of the Women’s World Cup.
Although, the tides are turning here too (in no small part due to the efforts of unionists like the Matildas): FIFA has pledged to equalise the World Cup prize money by 2027.
Still, it’s important to acknowledge that, as of 2023, the Matildas are an outlier in the international scene, and there is a stark lack of union representation and collective bargaining agreements for women’s national teams.
The PFA is blazing a path forward for sportsmen and sportswomen by winning historic CBAs (for players of both teams). If Australia’s success can inspire change internationally and encourage more national teams to form strong player unions, the more pressure it will place on organisations like FIFA to address substantial pay and prize money disparities.
These past few weeks have seen millions of Aussies discovering the force that is the Maltildas – erupting into Matilda mania that grew stronger with every round of the World Cup tournament.
There are high hopes that although Wednesday night was the end of the Matildas’ winning streak for Australia’s home-hosted World Cup, it’s been a competition that has truly changed the name of the game for women’s sport in Australia.
Coincidently, the Matildas’ 2019 CBA is set to end next month – if the players’ ambition over the years is any indication, their next agreement could be the most advanced yet.
The growth and strength of the Matildas has shown the nation, and the world, the value of workers coming together in solidarity and using their collective power to kick goals and win change.