The Women’s World Cup Is Paving The Way For A New Sporting Culture In Australia

The Women’s World Cup Has The Power To Change How We Engage With Sporting Culture In Australia

The Women’s FIFA World Cup has unequivocally gripped the nation. We’re seeing all ages, genders and backgrounds gathering to watch women’s soccer in a way that feels like we haven’t seen before in this country. 

It’s now, in this moment of attention, that we have the power to redefine how we collectively engage with sporting culture in Australia and that is pretty fucking exciting. 

Australian sport is often synonymous with three things: masculinity, alcohol and gambling.

It’s predominantly an arena for men: from the players, to the commentators, and the spectators; but the current Women’s World Cup has fostered a different cultural sporting ecosystem. 

Attending a World Cup match, either at the physical game, at the pub or a screening at a local park feels like an entirely different experience to that of other sporting codes.

Whenever attending an AFL or NRL game it’s hard to ignore the dominant ambience of masculinity, and all of the shrapnel that comes along with it.

It’s a feeling that I can only describe as a tangible ‘charge.’ An undercurrent that feels like everything is operating on a knife’s edge, that a wrong look or accidental stumble can flip a switch and spark a moment of aggression or violence. 

There’s the smell of alcohol that hangs thick in the air, and as a young woman there’s a hyper-vigilance that accompanies being in this type of space. 

This is by no way insinuating that these codes are inherently unsafe. I myself am a passionate supporter of both codes and personally think NRL is one of the greatest games on earth. 

As a supporter, coming face to face with the issues that exist within these codes is hard to grapple with. However it’s important that we acknowledge that they are real and very much exist. 

A study from La Trobe University’s Centre for Alcohol Policy Research found that Victorian police reported bracing for a 20 per cent increase in family violence on AFL grand final day and in 2021 domestic assaults increased by more than 40 per cent in New South Wales on the nights of State of Origin games.

Gambling and alcohol fuelled violence is a potent and destructive mix. It’s a horrible facet of Australian culture that rears its heads in our sport. These statistics are harrowing and leave a stain on the incredible work clubs across the country are doing at all levels.

Despite being acutely aware of these realities and statistics, I’m still a passionate believer in the transformative power of sport.

Nothing feels better than seeing an unthinkable win unfold before your eyes, forming a surrogate family bound not by blood but by the colours of your club and barracking for a team that is connected to a long community legacy.

Sporting clubs in Australia do incredible work with community engagement, grassroots initiates and providing pathways for young people all over the country. 

There is good stuff happening but we can’t shy away from the bad. We need to recognise that there are real issues within Australian sport, and these issues aren’t isolated to any one code but rather the culture that orbits them. 

However culture isn’t a stagnate fixture that remains permanent. We have the collective opportunity to see real change and ensure these toxic elements don’t exist into the future. 

When I attended the recent Australia and Denmark World Cup game there was a palpable feeling of united joy. It was as if we’d all signed an unspoken agreement that despite what colour we were wearing and what team we were going for, we all agreed on one thing: that the real winner was women’s soccer.  

I’ve never witnessed Accor stadium peppered with so many young girls who were full to the brim of passion and pride to attend a sporting match.

When I arrived I immediately texted a friend, “I can’t believe it, there are just so many women here!” I was overcome with what I was witnessing. When I walked around the stadium it felt like all of us were giving each other knowing looks that we were witnessing history unfold before us.  

The World Cup has done an excellent job of bringing together different members of our community to enjoy the game. Australia and New Zealand’s multicultural diasporas have been front and centre showing their support and the whole competition has shifted expectations on what we perceive as ‘someone who follows sport.’

The Australia and Denmark game smashed TV ratings, drawing a bigger audience than the AFL grand final and State of Origin, with 6.54 million people tuning in across free-to-air television and streaming platform 7plus.

Women’s sport is having a moment and the numbers prove that millions of us are invested in the current renaissance of women’s sport. 

All of the matches have brought skill, power and mutual respect to the forefront. A powerful image that encapsulates this is the moment when Ellie Carpenter consoled Denmark’s forward Signe Bruun after the Matilda’s epic win and knocked Denmark out of the competition. Carpenter and Bruun once played together as teammates and after Carpenter comforted Signe they swapped their jerseys.

The level of sportsmanship is of the highest calibre and aside from presenting players as incredible role models for young players, it cultivates an atmosphere of deep regard. The World Cup has promoted a symbiotic relationship that acts like a mirror between the players and the massive number of fans. 

We’re also seeing a noticeable lack of gambling advertisements and far less of a focus on alcohol. Instead the focus feels like it’s on the thing we’re actually here to support: the brilliant game of soccer.

The shift away from gambling and alcohol advertisements as part of the sporting experience makes the atmosphere feel far less aggressive. At every game I’ve watched, be it a stadium or at the pub, I’ve found myself overwhelmed with how calm and welcoming the environment is.

The World Cup has done a tremendous job at creating this culture, and other codes should take note of the steps they’ve taken to achieve this. They should also examine what elements they can embrace into their own code to shift attitudes to eradicate values that don’t represent what sport is truly about.

Beyond the World Cup we need to ensure that opportunities like this continue and importantly that all players regardless of their gender are paid equally.

It’s such an exciting time for women’s sport, and as it continues to grow it has the potential to push out toxic attitudes we’ve seen historically. Now is the time to create a new era where everyone feels safe and embraced as a supporter for any code of Australian sport.