The Australian Letter is a weekly newsletter from our bureau in Australia. Sign up to get it by email. This week’s issue is written by Natasha Frost, a reporter based in Melbourne.
They won’t face Spain on Sunday, and they can’t quite beat England back in the semifinals this week. But if the Matildas, Australia’s national women’s soccer team, didn’t win the tournament overall, they nonetheless walked away with the nation’s hearts firmly in their hands.
In late June, while reporting this story about the history of women’s sports in Australia, I spoke with Marion Stell, a historian at the University of Queensland, about what at the time seemed to be silenced. that enthusiasm for the contest, then about a month away.
“Hopefully, we can build on this as a big legacy,” he said.
Those hopes seem to have been fulfilled.
Defying expectations, Wednesday’s match broke records as the most-watched Australian television program in any genre — sport or otherwise — since records began in 2001, with an estimated 7.13 million people tuning in. playing
In a statement, Lewis Martin, head of sport for Seven, the broadcaster, said the team’s performance “captured the spirit of Australia that we haven’t seen in decades.”
He added: “The Matildas played their hearts out and made us all proud. The Matildas rewrote the history books.”
And even though the public holiday that some hoped would emerge from Australia’s World Cup victory may be off the table, the team is still being celebrated in memes, group chats, opinion columns and various media (including a Matildas-themed green and gold knish, at kosher bakery Zelda in Ripponlea, Victoria.)
After reporting in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, my colleague Rory Smith, The Times’ chief soccer columnist, described in this story how “the whole country seemed to be swathed in green and gold. Images of Matildas players appear from billboards and television screens and on the front pages of every newspaper.”
Brisbane’s Courier-Mail newspaper was briefly rebranded as The Kerr-ier Mail, in honor of Sam Kerr, Australia’s captain and superstar player, he wrote.
For longtime Australian women’s soccer fans, the tournament seems to mark a new beginning for the sport.
Writing in The Guardian, Joey Peters, a former player for the Matildas, described it pride and hope he felt now.
“It gave us so much excitement for the future,” he wrote. “Now we can dream, whereas before I never thought about it. The next generation is holding on to that dream. This is our future now. Australians as a football loving nation. Little girls fall in love with the game and grow into strong, inspiring women.
But amid the optimism, some concerns remain. After the team’s loss on Wednesday, Ms. Kerr, the Matildas star, has called for more federal funding for women’s soccer.
“We need funding in our development, we need funding in our grass roots. We need funding, you know, we need funding everywhere,” she said. “The comparison to other sports is not very good, and hopefully this tournament will change that – because that’s the legacy you leave, not what you do on the pitch.”
However, the Australian government has made some tough promises. In an unrelated statement, a spokeswoman for the federal government said: “We want funding to be fit for purpose, so that more women and girls can participate and compete in sport at all levels – and we’re always looking to more ways to do that.”
And one more thing: The old sporting chant “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie (Oi, oi, oi),” heard throughout this tournament, inspires some and shames others. Its supporters, perhaps surprisingly, include Germaine Greer, the Australian feminist writer, who calls it a powerful and patriotic rallying call.
“The scream is catchy, any audience can pick it up and it cuts through the surrounding white noise like a military tattoo,” he wrote in this noisy defense about a decade ago. “It is just as jingoistic to reject it because it is originally British as it is to value it for the same reason.”
Here are the stories of the week.