Matildas effect exposes football’s $2.9bn facilities shortfall


Football officials claim $2.9bn in infrastructure spending is required to bring the country’s grassroots facilities up to an acceptable level, as the sport deals with surging interest after the success of last year’s Women’s World Cup.

Female participation will grow by approximately one-third this year, according to early registration data, strengthening football’s place as the most played team sport in the country.

Football Australia (FA) will release its World Cup legacy report this week, which includes the results of an audit of 1,900 facilities and 4,350 fields across the country.

The major finding is a “cumulative facility gap” of $2.9bn required to bring the nation’s grassroots facilities up to what FA considers an acceptable level.

The report lands just weeks before the expected opening of the $200m Play Our Way women’s sport facilities grant program, announced by prime minister Anthony Albanese during last year’s tournament.

Football Australia’s head of women’s football and World Cup legacy, Sarah Walsh, said the government scheme will help address the gender gap in grassroots infrastructure.

“Football, being Australia’s largest club-based participation sport, requires significant investment to tackle current deficiencies, especially considering the significant rise in participation,” the former Matilda said.

“Ensuring a fair allocation of funds though this grant program is crucial to prevent any widening of the facilities gap within football.”

Grassroots football clubs have seen a registration boom but many lack female-friendly facilities. Photograph: Darren England/AAP

The FA’s report found only two in five clubs’ change rooms are female-friendly – with enough toilet cubicles and separate spaces for men and women – and only one in four have accessible restrooms.

Just over half of the nation’s fields are characterised as having a “good” playing surface, while two in three have sub-standard drainage.

More than two-thirds of fields have lights, but barely a quarter have the illumination level of 100 lux recommended for playing matches.

Addressing the shortcomings with change rooms would cost an estimated $1.5bn.

The report noted there has been some recent government investment into football, including the new Home of the Matildas in Melbourne and the Sam Kerr Football Centre in Perth.

However, it concluded there was a “significant deficiency in facility investment”.

“As participation demands increase, the strain on existing facilities within the 2,400-plus clubs nationwide, already at saturation levels, requires immediate attention from all levels of government – federal, state, and local,” the report said.

“It will therefore be crucial that grassroots football club facility upgrades materially benefit from the Australian government’s ‘play our way’ grant program.”

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The federal government announced $200m in funding for women’s sport facilities at the height of the excitement around the Matildas during last year’s World Cup.

The funds are available to all sports, but the federal sport minister, Anika Wells, said at the time, “it is anticipated soccer, as the highest participation sport in Australia, will need significant resourcing in the wake of the greatest Women’s World Cup ever.”

Guidelines for the program are expected to be released in the coming weeks.

Almost 1.4 million adults participated in football in some way last year, according to the government’s AusPlay survey – more than cricket and Australian rules combined – and more than 750,000 children also took part.

Early data from state federations suggest participation in women’s football could rise by around a third this year after the Matildas’ success.

The federal government continues to fund sport infrastructure, including professional facilities, through discretionary mechanisms.

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, held a press conference last Friday to mark the start of construction of AFL club Hawthorn’s new facility, which includes $15m investment from federal and state governments.

Albanese told radio station 3AW the facilities were “not just for Hawthorn Football Club, but amazing facilities that are going to be there for community sport for south-east Melbourne as well”.

The funding commitment was made by the previous Coalition government in 2020 and maintained by Labor when it came to power.

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