“Why we’re glad the Matildas lost against a team of 15-year-old boys.”

Earlier this week, Australia’s national women’s soccer team the Matildas played a training match against the Newcastle Jets under-15’s boys’ squad.

The Matildas lost 7-0.

And, not surprisingly, the media all of a sudden decided it was time to care about women’s sport.

The Huffington Post reported on the loss, commenting that with the Rio Olympics coming up, the Matildas “should be grateful there will be no under-16’s boys’ teams in their pool.”

Well…they don’t really need to be ‘grateful’. Given that the sport they’re playing is actually women’s soccer, it’s highly unlikely they will be coming up against 15-year-old boys.

Other news outlets called the game a “shocking defeat”, and former Socceroo Mark Bosnich told Triple M, “The Matildas, the next time they say they want to get paid like the Socceroos, I’d be bringing this up.”

Image via Getty. 

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Of course, he prefaced his statement by reminding us he is all for equality. "I'm all for equality across the board," he said. "As long as it's down to a meritocracy, i.e., if you produce like the next man or the next woman produces, you get paid the same."

The public sentiment is clear: the loss is an embarrassment.

And men like Bosnich have decided the loss is evidence - once and for all - that women's sport simply does not measure up to men's.

But despite the appalling comments made by people whom we would hope would know better, we're glad the Matildas lost against a team of 15-year-old boys. Because now we can finally have this conversation - a  frank and open discussion about the quality and standard of women's sport, and why, regardless of the result of a training game against teenage boys, they still deserve equal pay to male professionals.

Soccer is a sport developed by men, for men, and largely commented on and analysed by men. The structure and rules have been created for male players. Our understanding of what the game is, and what makes one talented, is determined by an entirely skewed criteria.

As women have (literally and figuratively) entered the arena, and brought with them their own set of skills, strengths, and strategies, it's become clear that men's soccer is not the same sport as women's soccer.

It's often said that men's tennis and women's tennis are two completely different games. The men's game is about speed and power, whereas the women's game is about precision and strategy. It's not a clear dichotomy by any means, but there is a reason tennis doesn't involve matches between Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic - because the outcome would not only be fundamentally unfair, but utterly meaningless.

Hockey is one of the only sports where men and women are paid equally. Watch professional player Anna Flanagan talk about her journey to the Olympics. Post continues below.

A common catch cry of the early women's movement was that men and women were 'equal but not the same.' And indeed, the comparison between men's and women's sport is absurd.

It's like asking if rowers are better than gymnasts. Or if Rugby players are better than AFL players. It's a flawed comparison. An impossible comparison.

Carlie Ikonomou, a former member of the Young Matildas training squad, who currently plays in the NSW women's premier league for North West Sydney Koalas, spoke to Mamamia about the media's criticism of Australia's female soccer players.

"Female football players have never professed to be as physically and biomechanically strong and fast as men," she says. "These women are at the top of their field and these young men are at the top of their field - it is unnecessary and counterproductive to compare women against men."

Carlie Ikonomou (left) played in the Young Matildas train-on squad. Image via Getty. 

Indeed, it's a physiological fact that boys in their teens will be quicker and stronger, on average, than women in their late teens and early twenties. But this doesn't mean that boys are better sportsmen or entitled to better pay.

It also doesn't mean we should downplay the skill level of female soccer players.

Carlie says "there are some players in this current squad who are just as fast and skilful as their male counterparts; Lisa De Vanna, Samantha Kerr and Caitlin Foord to name a few."

But the result of a training match is largely inconsequential, says Carlie. Alan Stajcic, Carlie's former Young Matildas coach and current head coach of the Matildas, simply recognised that "one of the most effective ways of improving our game speed and tactical awareness" was playing against the boys. "Sometimes the girls win, and sometimes the boys do - that's just the nature of sport," Carlie says.

Image via Getty. 

In the wake of the unexpected media attention, Stajcic has slammed the fundamentally 'pointless' comparison of the Matildas with the under-15's Jets. He doesn't know why we're comparing women with men. It has no productive value, and serves only to devalue what women do in the sporting arena. That is, of course, unless we use this public moment to begin an important conversation about equality that is long overdue.

There's an Albert Einstein quote that seems incredibly fitting.

"If you judge a fish by it's ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

Perhaps the highly publicised loss of the Matildas against 15-year-old boys is the reminder we need that when it comes to sport, women and men deserve to be equal, despite not necessarily being the same.

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