The Matildas are the success story we so badly needed in 2023.
The fairytale that last night had millions screaming in unison at outdoor big-screens and lounge-room small screens.
The feel-good drama that had a public holiday promised before the Matildas even ran onto the field inside Sydney’s Stadium Australia for the FIFA Women’s World Cup semi-final last night.
It might have finished before any of us wanted, but what the Matildas have delivered our nation over the past few weeks should be a legacy we nurture and treasure.
They’ve grown a love of football for children across the country. They’ve showcased a world-class homegrown athleticism.
They’ve proved, with every game, how women’s sport has been under-watched and under-recognised and under-valued. They’ve gifted us an escape from what’s happening at the petrol bowsers and in the supermarket checkouts, and with our mortgage rates.
And they’ve shown us the almighty power of teamwork.
Sam Kerr might be the household name (and bloody brilliant as her goal rammed home last night), but she’s just one in a team of stars. And her role off field, in earlier games as she nursed an injury, was just as crucial as it was last night.
Mary Fowler. Caitlin Foord. Hayley Raso. Cortnee Vine. Katrina Gorry. Steph Catley. Ellie Carpenter. Mackenzie Arnold. And a handful of others; all playing their part, whether it was as a defender, midfielder, forward or goalkeeper.
In interviews, the players (and their families) repeatedly came back to teamwork: they saw the team’s performance hanging on reading each other’s moves, supporting each other on and off the field, and believing that the better they work together, the more they would climb the ladder.
And that showed on their social media accounts and in their birthday celebrations and in the way they supported each other through events happening inside their families on the other side of the globe.
How might we ensure that lesson is taken off the field and delivered into classrooms and work places everywhere? How do we tailor that masterclass in working together to fit into our schools and companies and parliaments? Because the Matildas’ game shows how undervalued teamwork is now, and the power it is able to deliver.
It would be short-sighted to leave the Matildas’ impact on last night’s scoreboard.
One of our biggest challenges, off the field, is youth crime. Could we, for example, use the lessons in the Matildas run to change the narrative there?
The link between engaging in sport and and combatting youth crime might be as undervalued as women’s sport, pre-Matildas.
Just last month the International Olympic Committee and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reminded us that research had shown across the globe that “sport-related policy and community-based approaches’’ could empower youth to become “active agents of positive change in their communities’’.
That’s not a new view either. As far back as 2000, when Sydney hosted the Olympic Games, the Australian Institute of Criminology found that while crime prevention was “not the primary objective of sport and physical activity…it might be an extremely positive byproduct’’.
It would take enormous amounts of money and commitment, community support and teamwork, but could we consider how sport might play a bigger role in curbing the suburban crime rate that is fuelling isolation and fear?
Perhaps I’m grabbing at straws, but this week Payne Haas became a $3.6 million man; a multi-year contract making him the highest paid Brisbane Broncos player in history.
But any celebrations were almost definitely muted by his brother being arrested, accused of trying to bring $1 million worth of the drug ice into Queensland from NSW.
Triumph and heartache. Sport and Crime. On and off the field. A commitment to teamwork might be gameplay that delivers a goal for our communities.