Sarah Walsh: Tokyo 2020 something to build on for 2023
A record-breaking Olympics has shown Australia what will be on its doorstep in less than two years.
Following on from Tokyo 2020 and the Matildas’ fourth-place finish, Football Australia’s Head of Women’s Football and Women’s World Cup: Legacy and Inclusion, Sarah Walsh, spoke to ABC.
Off the pitch, more Aussies than ever tuned in to watch the women’s national team with the record being broken more than once during the course of the tournament. For Walsh, the average of 1.87 million (peak of 2.32 million) people watching the Sweden semi-final wasn’t unexpected.
“I think we're not surprised. But it really just reaffirms the Matildas, it was a couple years ago now that they were touted through research as Australia's most loved sporting team and it really just reaffirmed that.”
"It really is just a shift in the times, changing attitudes, and Matildas for us, are a global brand and it's great to have that reaffirmed domestically and we really want to grow on and build on that for the Women's World Cup. We have everything that we need to. It's going to be super fun in 2023.”
The Women’s World Cup is getting ever closer and the Olympics showed that not only is there an appetite for women’s football in Australia, but that the Matildas are on their way to making it particularly memorable.
“The positives to come from the Olympics that we will build on into the Women's World Cup, is that we were able to get some young players playing; Teagan Micah, Kyra Cooney-Cross and Mary Fowler were some of the shining lights. We are actually going to have peak age performance for roughly around eight of our core players within the group,” Walsh explained.
"It is a great story leading into the Women's World Cup, we're going to get some great opposition for this team to really bring it home.”
“We're expecting 60,000 unique visitors for the Women's World Cup and I'm not sure if anyone really can understand how big this event is." she continued.
"It's not only the biggest women's event in the world, it's actually the biggest sporting event in the world behind the men's World Cup.
"That is going to be on home soil. We have everything to play for and I think that we're building quite nicely.”
While the team collectively did plenty to make Aussies proud, there were a few individual achievements that warranted singling out.
Sam Kerr’s record-breaking goal against the United States in the bronze medal match and Kyah Simon’s 100th appearance in green and gold in the semi-final, the first Indigenous Australian player to reach the milestone, were cause for celebration.
“When you have a player like Sam Kerr, who is literally playing the best football of her life, where we're hoping that she can take that into the Women's World Cup in 2023. She's a player that is in form, she has a nose for goal. And she really lifts this team around her.”
“Some of the goals that she scored, are some of the best goals I've seen, scored by an Australian player in my time and I think the best is still yet to come for her.” Walsh said, herself the scorer of 32 international goals.
“[And] we're very, very proud of Kyah and also Lydia Williams, our two strong Indigenous girls and we were very proud of the way that they led with their values in terms of shining a light on racism here in Australia by linking arms and in starting to really raise that conversation.
"We're super proud of these players and we think the best is yet to come.”