OPINION: No, the Matildas popularity has nothing to do with them ‘playing like men’.

By his own admission, Caleb Bond doesn’t know much about soccer. But don’t worry, that won’t stop him mansplaining it to you.

“I’ve never been a soccer person, but having watched a bit of the Matildas in recent weeks, it’s hard to deny they put on a good game,” begins the Sky News columnist, in what is the latest lukewarm take, written by a man, on the ‘problem with female sports’. 

“Their skills are exceptional and the play is professional,” continues Bond. "It is more or less imperceptible from the men’s game.”

After this rousing praise for our girls in green and gold, Bond declares that far from the historical lack of support for women’s sport in this country having anything to do with sexism, it’s all because, until now at least, the women haven’t been playing enough like men.

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A confusing hill to die on from someone who is on-record supporting the banning of trans women from competing in female events at the Olympics, but I digress.

Because yes, in the year of our lord 2023, the conservative Gen Z commentator has trotted out the argument of many a drunk uncle at the Christmas table: if the sheilas want us to pay attention to ‘em, they should put on a show worth watching.


“The argument from many in female sport has long been that if you just gave it the same airtime as the men, it would garner the same support,” he writes. 

“But giving something airtime won’t convince people to watch – only putting on a good show will. The Women’s World Cup arguably had less hype and promotion than State of Origin this year and yet it has obliterated Rugby League’s television ratings. Remind me how the faltering of some women’s sports is the result of sexism?”

Now, as I’m merely a woman, my maths obviously can’t be trusted, but “less hype and promotion”? By what metric? 

Even against the impressive marketing budget of the 2023 Ampol State of Origin (reportedly totalling $10 million, up from $7 million in 2022) the three-year run-up promotion for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which saw a record-breaking 1.3 million tickets sold before the first game kicked off, easily dwarfs the hype of the annual Blues v Maroons faceoff. The collaborative marketing efforts of FIFA, Football Australia and their domestic partners included a six-part Disney + documentary series that charted the Aussie team’s World Cup preparation. We were, rightly so, frothing over the Women’s World Cup long before the first whistle blew.

And herein lies the flaw in Bond’s argument. Because while I agree with his claim that the Matildas are remarkable in every way, their popularity has nothing to do with them ‘playing like men’, and everything to do with the tangible financial investment made by stakeholders and the public.


At last, the concept that ‘you have to spend money to make money’ is being applied to women’s football in a real way, and the numbers speak for themselves. Bolstered by the success of the 2019 women’s world cup in France, FIFA’s commitment to gender equity in football has meant a huge increase in investment into the female iteration of the beautiful game. Compared to the previous budget cycle, FIFA’s 2023-2026 budget assumes a substantial increase in revenue of USD 4.56 billion to a total of USD 11 billion. 

It should be noted, however, that while a collective bargaining agreement with Football Australia has allowed the Matildas to access the same prize money percentages and conditions as the Socceroos, the total amount of money on offer is about a quarter of what the male players get. 

But according to Bond, that’s still not the fault of sexism, right?

He says there can’t be sexism in sport, because in sports like swimming, athletics and of course, horse-racing, we support female athletes just as much as their male counterparts.

“No one opts not to put a jockey on their horse because she’s a woman,” Bond asserts, “The three most celebrated Australian horses in the past two decades – Winx, Black Caviar and Makybe Diva – also happen to be mares, by the by.”

Even ignoring the Trumpian logic inherent in proposing that horseracing isn’t sexist because we allow female horses be whipped across the finish line, his other contention - that female jockeys are treated the same as men in horse racing - doesn’t really hold water either. A 2020 study in the Journal Of Sports Economics found that while, yes, female jockeys performed just as well as their male counterparts, they were under-represented at an aggregate level, and participated in only 3 percent of the time in the highest levels of Thoroughbred racing. 


Listen to The Quicky, In this episode, We speak with a former Tilly to find out some facts about the incredible women that make up the Matilda's squad. Story continues below.

“It seems clear that female jockeys early in their career may have trouble being awarded equal opportunities to demonstrate skills at winning races,” researchers, who gathered data from 120,000 Thoroughbred horse races from 2016 to 2018, told Forbes at the time. 

“Without opportunities to win races in the beginning, female jockeys cannot easily access the incentive system which rewards jockey success with opportunities for more success.”

And there it is again. Investment in women’s sports, including vital accessibility and representation, is the key to winning the hearts and minds of the spectating public.

The argument that we’d all tune in more to female sports if they only started kicking like men is nothing more than a strawman in a soccer jersey, and I for one can’t wait to keep tuning in as our Matildas continue kicking - and winning - like girls.

Feature Image: Supplied

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