- Programme to introduce funding and reforms to help more women play sport
- Australian government outlines reform models to modernise anti-siphoning scheme
- AFL also confirms equal prize money for men’s and women’s seasons
Australia has unveiled a AUS$200 million (US$128 million) women’s sports fund following the Matildas’ success at the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup.
The ‘Play Our Way’ programme has been described by the Australian government as one of the country’s ‘biggest comprehensive investments in women’s sports’, featuring funding and reforms to drive participation.
The programme will set out to create new opportunities for families and communities to come together by building ‘safer, modern environments’ for women and girls to play sport. Play Our Way grants will also promote equal access, build more suitable facilities, and support grassroots initiatives to get women and girls to participate in sport throughout their lives.
All sports will be covered but it is anticipated soccer, as the highest participation sport in Australia, will need significant resourcing off the back of the record-breaking Women’s World Cup.
The Matildas’ performance at the tournament has been championed as a watershed moment for women’s soccer in Australia, which co-hosted the competition alongside New Zealand. The national team broke record after record on their way to the semifinals, setting various attendances and TV viewership milestones.
Indeed, the Australian government hailed the ‘extraordinary rise’ in women’s participation in community sport over the past decade, as well as the performances of the Diamonds national netball team and the Wallaroos women’s national rugby union side. The plan is to ensure this momentum continues to inspire future generations, with local governments, community organisations, the not-for-profit sector and sporting organisations encouraged to seek funding for localised solutions and improvements.
Another key element of the programme is making sure iconic women’s sporting events are increasingly available for Australians to watch on free-to-air (FTA) TV, after the bulk of the Women’s World Cup was shown on pay-TV network Optus Sport.
The Australian government has acknowledged that the country’s anti-siphoning scheme needs to be modernised to incorporate online services to mitigate the risk of events slipping behind paywalls. Unlike the Women’s World Cup, men’s World Cup matches featuring the Socceroos and the final are protected by federal anti-siphoning laws, meaning FTA broadcasters have first refusal of buying the rights before any pay-TV network or streaming service.
However, FTA networks are not obligated to show every game for free, allowing networks to put matches on their respective streaming services.
The Australian government’s review into the scheme, which it had committed to ahead of the 2022 election, also found that the composition of the anti-siphoning list needs to be reconsidered with respect to women’s sports and parasports.
A proposals paper, which outlines three reform models to modernise the scheme, has been released. Options canvassed include preventing streaming and other online services, along with subscription television broadcasters, from acquiring a right to provide coverage of an event on the anti-siphoning list until a FTA broadcaster has a right to televise the event on a FTA broadcasting service.
The Australian government’s preferred model affirms FTA broadcasting services as the ‘safety net’ for free access to nationally important and culturally significant sporting events.
The paper also outlines options to amend the list once reforms to the scheme are implemented, including additions to include events in the Paralympic Games, the Australian Football League Women’s (AFLW) Premiership, the National Rugby League (NRL) Women’s Premiership and the NRL Women’s State of Origin Series.
All of the list options in the paper would include men’s and women’s rugby league, rugby union, cricket and soccer matches that involve a senior Australian representative team, which the government said would provide ‘consistent treatment of these matches irrespective of gender’.
Feedback on the proposals paper will inform the development of legislation to modernise the anti-siphoning scheme and list, which will be introduced in the Australian parliament in the coming months.
The potential addition of the AFLW coincides with the AFL confirming it will award equal prize money for the men’s and women’s competitions for the first time in 2023.
The total pool of player prize money for both will be AUS$1.1 million (US$706,000). That amount will be split among the top four teams in the AFL and the top eight teams in the AFLW.
It comes after the relaunch of the McClelland Trophy, which will now include both men’s and women’s results, with AUS$1 million (US$641 million) to be shared between the club and all its players.
Since 1991, the McClelland Trophy had been awarded to the men’s team that finished first in the standings, having previously been given to the club with the best overall performance across multiple sides, including seniors, reserves and under-19s.
Kicking off this year, the trophy will be awarded to the best-performed club across the men’s and women’s competitions.
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