AFL and Essendon legend James Hird has thrown his support behind Port Melbourne Soccer Club’s female footballers after their bid for the 2023 Women’s World Cup was ripped from the bottom.
Less than six months after being selected by FIFA as one of the 13 official training sites for the tournament, Port Melbourne SC were surprised and devastated to learn that Port Phillip City Council had pulled the site.
The council approved a planned facility upgrade at the JL Murphy Football Ground as part of FIFA’s original investment in women’s football, but it was rejected this week in what Sharks player Gabrielle Vittorio described as “heartbreaking”.
“They signed a contract… [but] it was only a few days ago that we found out that the council had withdrawn its support. They went straight to FIFA without contacting the club, its women, its participants, anyone,” Vittori told The Ticket.
“This is heartbreaking for us.
Vittori said local community support had always been strong and following the success of the England Lionesses at the European Championship this month, there was buzz around next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“It’s been amazing, it’s really highlighted how amazing women’s sport is and to get the funding to turn our place into a training facility is just crazy for us,” she said.
“I speak for the girls I play with, my daughters on my team, I speak for my club and I speak for the girls and women in our community who are continually overlooked by our council as a sport and as a community that wants to develop and grow.
“I’m overwhelmed by all of this, I just don’t know what to do anymore.
The council has previously celebrated its site selection, saying on its website that FIFA’s selection of its facilities was “great recognition of the council’s focus and support for women’s participation in sport and a reward for our desire to improve facilities that can support inclusive opportunities”.
The sudden turnaround by the council led others to question whether the council’s commitment was ever real.
Hird has been part of the Port Melbourne sporting community for the past five or six years through his three sons playing there.
He says the council’s decision is short-sighted.
“It’s a great community club. It’s 50 to 60 years old and it’s a wonderful place,” he said.
“When it was announced three years ago that Port Melbourne would be one of the training centers for the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the excitement around the club was huge, especially for the women involved.
“After the Olympics, this is one of the biggest sporting events we’ve ever had in this country […] not only for the community but also for young girls and boys who can look up to these players and get some interest in the game.
“The men’s game is busy, but the opportunities for women in football are growing more and more. I think it’s a bit of a slap in the face, not just for the women really, but for everyone the board has pulled out.” their support without the club knowing about it.
“The club found out on Wednesday by accident because the council didn’t let them know. It’s a strange event and everyone in the club and the surrounding area is asking why.”
In a statement to the ABC, Port Phillip Council chief executive Peter Smith said it was expected that the upgrade on the ground would be achievable by June this year.
“FIFA said the installation of a $500,000 drainage system on Pitch 1 was necessary to keep the pitch as a training venue,” Smith said.
“FIFA also requested a $120,000 lighting upgrade and improvements to make the bathroom ‘female friendly’.
“These three non-negotiable demands totaled $700,000.
“While FIFA has offered to contribute $100,000 towards these drainage works, there is currently no council budget to make up the shortfall.
“Due to this issue, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to meet the FIFA deadline for the completion of drainage.
“However, we are already carrying out female-friendly changing room upgrades and our lighting is suitable for community sport.”
Mr Smith said the council understood the disappointment of local clubs.
Gabrielle Vittori said that if the council really wanted to support women’s sport, it would look elsewhere for financial support.
She had a private conversation with FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura to express her concerns.
“It was a private conversation. I’m not going to go into what she said, but I expressed my concerns exactly as I am with you right now, and she was interested in what was going on,” Vittori said.
“I know the council has not approached the state government or any other institution for funding.
“We have been involved in discussions about more facilities in the future and representatives of the federal government have been involved in these discussions and have been so excited about the idea of developing a facility in our community that would support not only sport but also women. .
“Our council has not asked for any grants or funding assistance from the state government.
The council confirmed it was not looking elsewhere to cover the shortfall in the cost of the upgrades.
“It’s incredibly disappointing. I started playing this game at 44, well past the age most girls join,” Vittori said.
“My daughter used to play until she was about seven years old, but because of the lack of facilities and support, she no longer wanted to play with boys.
“She wanted to play with the girls.
“We didn’t have the facilities to involve more girls and grassroots teams.
“She’s since come back and now plays in my team, which is a bit disappointing because she’s 15 and I’m 53. She needs to play with girls her age.
“This isn’t about me, this is about the girls I play with who are much younger. This is about young girls coming through our community and wanting to play for years and years.”
In a brief statement, FIFA said it was committed to ensuring the provision of pristine pitches for the World Cup – a fact known to all the councils that submitted a bid to be selected as a training venue.
Regarding the selection of training sites in the host countries, we can confirm that all prospective training sites and local authorities have been consulted at the outset and throughout the ongoing selection process and have agreed to meet the international standards that will be required for the 32nd teams to participate in the Championship world in women’s football.
Following regular discussions with local stakeholders, FIFA has taken note of the City of Port Phillip’s decision to withdraw the JL Murphy Reserve as a potential training venue for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
While the board’s decision appears final, Vittori and the local soccer community say they are ready to fight in the hope that the girls and women of Port Melbourne SC will have their ground returned to the FIFA Women’s World Cup legacy program.
“That’s the great thing about the Port Melbourne community: they never lie, they have a strong committee and really strong people,” Hird said.
“There will be a meeting at the club on Sunday to highlight it, try to get it back on track and see if we can find the money somewhere.
“It would be very, very sad if the Port Melbourne Football Club could not host the team and leave a legacy for the girls and women in the community around such a great event.”
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