I tuned in on Monday night to 7Mate to watch Australia Vs North Korea, to find out what all the fuss was about, but having only “free to air” television, means I will watch any sport I can get. The Matildas only had to draw to qualify for the Olympics, yet I was dreading the chest beating patriotic commentating that accompanies any Australian team (Oi!Oi!Oi!). There were many surprises in store for what turned out to be a television sporting highlight of the year.
The Matildas played an attractive attacking football, full of skilful passes, turns and gut busting runs to get a scoring opportunity or close down the opposition’s attack. The high skill level was evident in powerful strikes, courageous saves from the keeper sliding into upturned studs or the ability to come back after a great equalizing goal from North Korea, but it was the celebrations after the win that really captured the heart.
As the hour grew late I plonked on the headphones, so as not to disturb my sleeping family. When the final whistle blew pandemonium erupted, no different than any men’s celebrations: There was back slapping, a fist pump to camera by the diminutive striker with an accompanying “fuck yeah!” and screams of joy, though admittedly in a much higher register. Underneath the audio I could hear sobs, but I couldn’t see the player, when I realised it was commentator former Matilda keeper Melissa Barbieri, just retired from the game and unable to contain her emotions. It took a while for her to regain her composure and then she explained to the audience they probably had no idea what this meant to her and the team. Yes, it was the joy of qualifying for the Olympics for the first time in 12 years, but also importantly, finally being paid as professionals (a miniscule amount compared to the men’s team) meant they could train without having to go to work and produced the skill and fitness, so evident on the ground that night. Maybe too much emphasis is put on the word “equal” in “equal opportunity”. Stuff “equal”, these athletes were merely talking about “opportunity”.
Women’s sport also brings much to the table from which men’s sport could learn. In a beautiful post match interview between Melissa Barbieri and striker Michelle Heyman, Michelle revealed that the team have pictures of their friends and family posted over their lockers and walls to remind them of the people who helped get them there. A far cry from wives and families banned from the Ashes tours or naked pics on locker doors.
Women’s sport has had to deal with male dominated sporting bodies and the media portraying as second class citizens, with condescending comments like “people won’t watch female sport”, “they’re not as hard” or “not as skilful.” Let me tell you, like the legalisation of marijuana in Colorado, this is an economic situation television won’t be able to resist. It reminds me of male stand up comics starting out with a knob joke or addressing the audience as “Hey guys, don’t you hate it when…”. Inevitably one of the older comics pulls them aside and asks “Why are you only talking to half the audience?”. The ratings were a big leap on Channel Seven’s secondary channel, so even if it’s not done for the right reasons of equality, economics will force the change, because so much sport is stupidly only talking to half the audience.