By Kristy Williams For Daily Mail Australia
Football is poised to steal away the next generation of women’s sporting talent from the likes of the AFL and NRL as the staging of the women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand leaves Aussie girls all wanting to be the next Sam Kerr.
FIFA‘s Chief Women’s Football Officer Sarai Bareman, who was born in New Zealand but also represented Samoa’s women’s football team, says the domestic football codes have cause for concern as they are knocked down the pecking order in the fight over the cream of female sporting talent.
‘Domestically, this World Cup is going to create a huge acceleration of growth for football here,’ Bareman told Daily Mail Australia.
‘In England, which wasn’t even one of the 2019 World Cup hosts, 850,000 more women and girls laced up their boots in the month following that World Cup just because of the impact off that world packed atmosphere.
‘So you can imagine here in Australia, the number of participants that are going to come to the game that aren’t currently playing is going to be incredible.
‘And what it does is lift the entire system, right? The grassroots, but also the A-League women and Matildas.
‘I promise you, in 10, 15 years time, you’re going to see some more little Sam Kerrs coming up through the system as a result of having this World Cup here in Australia.’
Australia is preparing to host next year’s World Cup, and the Matildas (pictured celebrating a Sam Kerr goal in the Tokyo Olympics)
Bareman is intent on improving access to the beautiful game for smaller or impoverished countries as she is for elite competitions like the Women’s Super League in England or the USA’s NWSL.
Bareman was in Sydney recently to launch the ticketing for next year’s World Cup and gave Daily Mail Australia an insight into how special the Matildas are, what the World Cup will mean for football in Australia and how she wants many more women to join her as powerbrokers within FIFA.
FIFA’s women’s football chief, Sarai Bareman, in Sydney to launch tickets for next year’s World Cup, that is being hosted by Australia and New Zealand
In 2015 she was appointed as the only female member on FIFA’s reform committee before heading across to head up the Women’s Football division – in what was a time of huge upheaval due to corruption scandals.
So what did Bareman need to focus on to improve football – particularly for women and girls – at FIFA after such a tumultuous time?
‘I often get asked that. And the honest truth answer is there’s not one single thing that we could focus on that was going to make the immediate difference,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.
‘One of the most important changes that has started to happen, and will happen more and more, is just to have more women in the game. Not just on the pitch, but in boardrooms and the decision-making bodies as administrators.
‘More women will result in better results for women’s football generally, and a more diverse decision-making body leads to a better decision-making process, and, ultimately, better decisions,’ said Bareman.
The fact FIFA, an organisation bigger than the United Nations, has 211 member associations, underscores the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to improving women’s football.
FIFA is an organisation bigger than the United Nations, with over 211 member countries. Pictured is the flags representing those countries in Doha, Qatar, ahead of the men’s World Cup in November
‘I like to use the example of South Sudan. South Sudan is the newest country in the world, and they have just for the very first time ever last year, set up their first ever women’s league,’ said Bareman.
‘So we’re dealing with and supporting countries like that where we’re making an incredible impact for young girls just to even be able to access a competition to play.
‘And then at the end of the end of the scale we’ve got the World Champions, the USA, and their professional league,’ Bareman pointed out.
Of course one easy way to improve both the standard and access to football is to invest in it.
Country Bank Stadium in Townsville was sold out in April for the Matildas match against New Zealand – further proof of the high-esteem in which the nation’s team is held
Investing money and time into female football will make it a better product, to put it crudely – and there is no better example of that than Australia.
‘The Matildas are the shining example of that,’ Bareman said.
‘They’re one of the marquee teams of this country across all sporting codes and genders.
‘Sam Kerr is an absolute superstar and you’ve got men and boys following her just as much as the women and girls.
‘And it shows, when you invest, develop and put focus on the women’s game, you get just as good results, if not better, than what we see in the men’s game,’ said Bareman.
Superstar might be putting it mildly. On Tuesday morning (AEST) Kerr is set to find out whether she has finally nabbed her first Ballon d’Or gong after being controversially overlooked for many years.
Superstar Sam Kerr is one of the greatest players in the world – and she is one of Australia’s most popular sportspeople of either gender
The eyes of the football world will turn to Australia – and Kerr – in July next year when 32 teams head Down Under for the World Cup – with New Zealand also hosting games.
Given the fact that the first day of ticket sales exceeded the entire first week of the 2019 tournament in France. it’s safe to say the appetite for top-class women’s football in, let’s face it the most beautiful nation on earth, is insatiable.
The traditional sports in Australia like rugby league and AFL, which are both experiencing a huge explosion in players and talent, will be under huge threat from football.
You just know Australia will be caught up in a hype that will far exceed when the Socceroos finally qualified for the World Cup in 2006.
Sarai Bareman, holding FIFA’s catch cry for the 2023 World Cup – Beyond Greatness – says if Aussie fans aren’t in love with women’s football yet, they will be
‘It’s (2023 World Cup) a huge, massive moment in time where the eyes of the world are turning to one. And what excites me the most about next year is that those eyeballs are going to be here in Australia and New Zealand. Two of the most beautiful, culturally diverse countries in the world,’ said Bareman, without one hint of bias.
‘You literally get to be metres away from some of the biggest superstar athletes in the world and it doesn’t matter whether they’re men or woman. We are talking about some of the best athletes in our sport that are going to be here.
‘The FIFA Women’s World Cup is the single biggest female sporting event in the world. And if people aren’t in love with the game here now, they will be,’ Bareman said.
Sam Kerr takes a selfie with a young Matildas fan in England after a recent friendly – when the side is able to be part of hosting a World Cup next year, imagine how many extra fans the team will be able to draw. Look out AFLW and NRLW
57,900 people packed into the sold-out Groupama Stadium in Paris to watch the USA beat the Netherlands in the 2019 World Cup final
Of course it isn’t just about Australia, as Bareman explains. Football really IS the world’s game.
‘1.12 billion people from around the world watched the previous World Cup in France, and I think, in a record, in more than 200 territories globally,’ she said.
‘The challenge we have at FIFA, because football is such a popular sport, specifically women’s football that’s growing so fast, is that the expectation and demand often doesn’t allow for that longer term approach that is needed to ensure that what we do is sustainable.’
‘Africa in particular is a continent that just lives and breaths football and the talent is absolutely incredible.
‘I think what will be really important for me is the impact that this tournament has on women’s football across the two host countries and the wider kind of Asia-Pacific region as well as the globe, obviously. We want every single Women’s World Cup to be bigger, better and more successful.’
Having a successful Matildas side in particular would be a huge boost to both FIFA and Football Australia.
The Matildas feature world-class players like Caitlin Foord and Steph Catley
Unfortunately though, since Tony Gustavsson was controversially appointed in 2020, the Matildas have been on a rollercoaster of sorts.
Despite world-class talent like Sam Kerr, Ellie Carpenter, Caitlin Foord, Mary Fowler and Steph Catley, a confusing game-plan from Gustavsson, who also constantly chops and changes the Starting XI, has left the players hanging on for dear life as they ride the rollercoaster.
The Matildas managed to beat a top-20 nation for the first time in a year on October 12, when they won 3-1 against Denmark in a friendly: highlighting the fact that the Aussie girls have not been able to aim up against the world’s best despite all the talent.
Devastating ACL injuries to Carpenter and striker Kyah Simon have certainly been tough to deal with though. The duo will be crucial to Australia’s chances at the World Cup next year, and fingers are crossed they can both take part.
Not only for the Matildas chances, but their electric style of play will be a godsend for encouraging more eyeballs to watch, and more girls to play.
Clare Polkinghorne celebrates a goal in the Matildas 4-1 friendly win over South Africa in England on October 8
Bareman is a firm believer that women play the world’s game in a style just as appealing, if not more, than men.
‘We saw in France (2019 World Cup) that women’s football is beautiful, and it’s skilful. We have some of the best athletes in the world. We did a physical analysis off the back of France in 2019 and the statistics that came out of that were incredible,’ she said.
‘It showed us is that the speed of the players on the ball had increased significantly over the last period of time. The passing plays, the number of goals that were being scored and the number of shots that were being taken.
‘Those are all indicators about the technical ability of the players and actually the beauty of the game and all the indicators were increasing.’
‘So take gender out of it and just look at it for the beauty of the sport. It’s an incredible game to watch. It’s exciting and that’s why these guys need to come. Guys, girls, everyone needs to come to the stadiums to see it for themselves,’ said Bareman.
The draw is set to be decided in Auckland this Saturday, when teams will finally learn who they need to beat across the eight groups.
The USA (ranked 1), England (4), Sweden (2) and Brazil (9) will be some of the top challengers, and fortunately Australia will avoid a battle in the group stage with the top six contenders thanks to their host status.
‘We have some incredible athletes in our sport and for me, it’s a beautiful game to watch. Boys, girls, men, women, whoever it may be. Football is a beautiful sport. And to have that coming here to Australia and to New Zealand next year with some of the biggest superstars. Oh my gosh, what a moment it will be,’ said Bareman.
Tickets are available now, and you can get them here. with the tournament scheduled to go from July 30 to August 20, 2023.
Published by Associated Newspapers Ltd
Part of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday & Metro Media Group