Heather Reid, CEO of ACT Football Federation (Capital Football) and CEO of Canberra United FC, 20 March 2015
FRANCES BALDWIN: Good morning everyone and thanks again for joining us at Landmark Women. For those of you who don’t know who I am, my name is Frances Baldwin and I am looking after the Museum Friends here. If you are not familiar with the wonderful benefits of the Museum Friends, please talk to your colleagues who brought you along or come and see us in the office if you are interested in joining because it’s a wonderful program. This talk is one of the highlights that we have every month.
A reminder that the session is being recorded and Polly is also transcribing here so first of all please turn your phones off or put them on silent and wait for the microphones for questions at the end.
I also want to let you know that you would have noticed the Defining Moments event that is happening down in the hall this morning that starts in about 10 minutes. When the session is over, if you could either go through the shop or around the bay window to avoid all that congestion in the hall. I apologise if that is inconvenient for anybody. Come and see me if you need any assistance.
To introduce our speaker for March, Heather Reid AM has been involved with football or soccer since 1978. She has worked in several senior management and consultancy positions and has been a lecturer in sports admin at the University of Canberra. Since 2004, Heather has been the CEO of ACT Football Federation, otherwise known as Capital Football, and she is in her eighth year wearing a second hat as the CEO of the Westfield W-League champions Canberra United FC.
Heather was appointed to the board of the 2015 Asian Cup local organising committee and was also on the ACT steering committee. Canberra hosted seven games in the Asian Cup in January this year, with more than 82,000 people supporting the event in Canberra which is wonderful. She’s also an executive member of the ACT Olympic Council.
Most recently, Heather was awarded a member of the Order of Australia in the 2015 Australia Day awards – so congratulations on that - for her significant service to sports admin and as an advocate for gender equality in sport. Please join me in welcoming Heather to Landmark Women.
HEATHER REID: Thank you very much, Frances, and thank you very much for inviting me to speak this morning. Some people would say I love talking about myself but I particularly love talking about women in sport and the journey that I have had, especially through football. Before I start, some of you may have seen a bit of my presentation. I also spoke at the wonderful Friends of the National Library and did a similar presentation. Was anyone at that talk who is here? I need to warn you there is a little bit of graphic nudity in some of my slides, so be forewarned. I also want to say we’re talking about football and we’re talking about the round ball game, the world game of soccer. I often say to people, ‘Let’s not get hung up about whether we call it football or soccer, it’s the world game. There are many forms of football: rugby league, rugby union, Aussie rules, touch and soccer. So if I am talking about football, I’m also talking about soccer.’ That’s pretty clear.
What I am going to do today is tell you a bit about myself and the part that I have played in the evolution and progress of women’s involvement in football, particularly in Canberra, over the last 35 years. It’s about the role I played in the unification of four organisations into a single entity known as Capital Football or the ACT Football Federation, which represents the interests of more than 18,000 male and female players in Canberra playing football and futsal - five a side, seven a side, nine a side, et cetera - 12 months a year now, as well as thousands of coaches, referees, club administrators and volunteers. I am sure that every one of you in this room knows somebody who has some connection with the sport of soccer.
It is fair to say that the progress of opportunities for women in sport in Australia, and particularly fairly male dominated sports like football, and indeed across the world have never been straightforward or uncontested. Gains made in one generation - and we have several generations in this room - can quickly be lost in the next. We have seen the demise of separate women’s associations that existed up until probably the 1960s become part of integrated umbrella organisations that we now have which has changed the landscape quite a bit for women in sport. But real changes only occurred when individuals or organisations have challenged the way the system works to ensure that the changes are sustainable, are equitable and fair. My story is also somewhat of a success story. It relates to how careful and at times fairly courageous and crazy decisions, combined with a willingness of lots of parties to work together to compromise and collaborate, has led to a better sport for everyone.
But first a little bit about me. I am the daughter of working class Scottish migrants who came from Edinburgh in Scotland to Australia in 1955 with my elder brother and sister. I was born the following year in Goulburn. We ended up in Goulburn because my maternal grandmother was there. She was the first to come to Australia with her daughter, my mother’s younger sister, essentially to care for one of her sons who was in the British navy and had been offloaded on the boat in Darwin because he was sick and ended up in Sydney.
My grandmother ended up in Goulburn working for the Archbishop there in the church. From Goulburn, where my father worked as a plumber and my mother was a hairdresser, we moved after a year or so - or my father actually moved first of all - to Cooma to work on the Snowy Mountains Scheme. He lived in Cooma without his family for probably 18 months. He travelled from Cooma to Goulburn every weekend to be with his family in Goulburn. I never saw very much of my father when I was a baby other than maybe on a Friday night and weekends. He was off again on Monday morning.
We grew up in Cooma, Khancoban and Talbingo. If you know the Snowy Mountains area, it is absolutely beautiful country and a great experience. I am talking about the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s particularly. In those towns, we know that that area is often referred to as the birthplace of multicultural Australia. The Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme, what an amazing change for Australia that has had such an impact on everything that we do. In many respects I was a country kid sheltered from the city. I didn’t really know too much about wild music – Uriah Heep, Cream, Deep Purple - all those ’70s rock bands et cetera didn’t come into my life unless people came to the township with their music or we listened to it on the radio at night-time when we got good reception from a Sydney station.
I also didn’t understand too much about what was going on around me in terms of the Snowy Mountains Scheme. I knew that there were dams being built and people were being relocated from their homes, that there were tunnels and all this sort of stuff, but I didn’t have much of an appreciation about what the Snowy Mountains Scheme was all about. That was until a primary school headmaster when I was in grade 6 asked the question: what is the Snowy Mountains Scheme? There was only one kid in the class who knew. There was a big education for us. We were just living and breathing this amazing lifestyle.
I have very fond memories of the freedom and wonderful outdoor life that we had during those years. On reflection, mixing with kids who had names like Krupinski, Livisiannos, Eglitis, Matchewski, Brown, Brewis and Murphy all helped to give me a great appreciation of the diversity and richness of our society with their different music, different food, culture, recreation and sport.
In my teenage years I travelled to high school in Tumut on the bus that picked up kids along the way from the farms, kids who were later displaced from their homes to make way for the Blowering Dam. In this diaspora, I also had friends who were third or fourth generation Australians as well as Aboriginal, Chinese, Japanese, French and German kids who came with their families to build part of the Snowy Mountains Scheme.
I was educated in small primary schools with often one teacher. I remember the first day in Talbingo was in a house and we were in one room and there were 14 kids and one teacher. It eventually grew to a much larger primary school. We played vigora – some of you probably remember that - field hockey, we did athletics and we spent most of our summer holidays swimming or just lazing around the lake and the river. My Dad built a boat which meant we also enjoyed sailing and there was always a lot of fishing, without much reward other than the pleasure of fishing.
On the weekends I did housework and I also worked at the local service station pumping petrol for pocket money. My Mum worked in Tumut on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday as a hairdresser to earn extra money. As the third child and somebody who didn’t mind doing a bit of housework, I looked after the house on the Saturday and quickly shoo-ed people out the door if they came in to make a mess. I cleaned silver for a wonderful Scottish woman called Mrs Andean, who regarded me as a ‘sensible girl with a lovely disposition’. I did babysitting for money but also for the opportunity to learn how to type, a skill that has stood me in great stead ever since. I type in every single aspect of my job. I don’t have a PA in what I do. I am the typist. I type pretty fast and I can type while I am still talking to somebody. The staff find it amazing. But that skill is something that I think is a fundamental skill now, particularly in the computer age.
It was a great life for a kid who loved heading into the mountains and the bush on a Saturday. I would join with friends. We’d get a billy, we’d get some tea and have a sausage and we’d go up and make a little fire, probably illegally. We’d boil the billy and we’d have a great time. It was also there that I was introduced to association football or soccer as the men from the barracks or the camp played in the local league. We had some 3000 men living in single quarters. They came from all over the world mainly from Europe as migrants and from southern Europe in particular. They played in the local league on Saturday.
It was also there that I was introduced to the cultural and political differences between some of these men who were migrants from Europe. In particular I learnt that not all people from the former Yugoslavia were actually Yugoslavians, they were Croatian, Serbian, Macedonian, Albanian and of course Bosnian and many other nationalities. Unbeknown to me at the time, those experiences have helped me greatly with my work in football, the multicultural sport of Australia. From those days more than 40 years ago, I would never have imagined that I would go on to have such a long involvement in this world game from when I first saw it played when I was 12 or 13.
I came to Canberra in 1974 after I finished school to do a secretarial course at what was then the TAFE college on Constitution Avenue. Then after working in the Public Service as a typist I decided it was time to head overseas. I was 20 years of age and I wanted to go and meet my parents’ families - my paternal grandmother, my aunts, uncles and cousins who were in Scotland and Canada. So I spent ten months travelling overseas, meeting and staying with these wonderful people, and that terrific experience certainly gave me a growing up experience in my life. I had my 21st birthday in Olympia, Washington. I shovelled snow in Canada at Christmas time. And I hold all that very dear to my Scottish heritage. I still cry when I hear the bagpipes.
When I returned, I worked a secretary at the Australian National University [ANU] where I met women who were playing at lunchtime in the lunchtime soccer competition and before long I was cajoled into getting involved and have been hooked ever since. We formed the ANU Women’s Club and then the ACT Women’s Soccer Association, which was part of the Australian Women’s Soccer Association. We did that because, whilst initially women’s soccer in Canberra was played under the former Canberra junior league, we wanted to determine our own destiny and have our own decision making. We were accepted by the men but really it was a little bit of lip service. We are talking about the 1970s, the feminist generation et cetera, and felt we could do it ourselves.
I managed the ACT representative team in the first year. I found myself at national meetings where it wasn’t long before I was appointed to the board as well as to the position of a national team manager. It seems I had a lot to say about the management and the future of the sport and where we might go. So I quickly developed a reputation as an advocate for creating more opportunities and change for women in this fairly male-dominated area.
So with a taste for sports administration and a secretarial background and being a planner, organiser and doer, I enrolled in what was the first sports management course at the Canberra College of Advanced Education, now the University of Canberra, in 1981. This course was set up essentially for the athletes at the Australian Institute of Sport [AIS] who had to do some study or go to school. Obviously I wasn’t an elite athlete at the AIS or a coach, but I got into the second semester as a mature age student and I was one of the first graduates in the sports administration course in 1983.
From there I went on to be CEO of ACT Touch Football Association and then two years later I got my dream job as the only employee of the Australian Women’s Soccer Association, the first position that they created. I stayed there for six years before working for Women’s Sports Australia, a national lobby group for women in sport, the Australian Sports Commission and the University of Canberra.
From my beginnings at club and state level and with a formal education in sport management, in 1986 there I was in my dream job working and getting paid to do something about improving opportunities for women in soccer. I had an IBM typewriter, a fax machine and no other technology apart from the phone - and no mobile phone. What a lovely time that was compared to now! It was my job to guide the organisation from what is often known as the kitchen table administration to the national and international boardroom as well as develop strong club competitions across Australia that fed into state and national championships.
The participation by women and girls increased over those years, and on my trips overseas with the national team, prior to the national team being regarded as the Matildas, I realised the importance of developing professional networks, firstly in Oceania and then in Asia, and then using them to reach further internationally into football. I was part of a small group of people who lobbied FIFA [Fédération Internationale de Football Association] to introduce a World Cup for women. With strong support from the USA in particular, over the past 23 years we have seen the introduction of a World Cup for women in 1991, under 20s World Cup, under 17s World Cup and, more importantly from a funding point of view, the Olympic football tournament for women. More recently with our inclusion in the Asian Football Confederation there is an under-14 Asian competition as well. There are massive qualification processes for our national women’s teams in order to make the World Cup.
The Australian women’s team is ranked number 10 in the world. They are off to Canada in June where they will play in the seventh World Cup. I am going to be taking a month off and going to join them. This now is the sport that has the most opportunities on a world level for women in terms of team sport.
As the stakes for women in football began to change, I tried to ensure that the amateur nature of sport also changed across the whole spectrum. I saw the need for Australian players to gain international experience and exposure. I negotiated the first international contracts for Australian female players, and one of those players was from Canberra, Julie Murray, who played in Denmark. I also recognised that further systemic change was needed for the sport to be truly sustainable and competitive. To these ends, I have been an advocate for opportunities for women in leadership roles. It’s very dear to my heart that we have to do something to get more women in leadership. Sport is a reflection of society. We see this lack of women in leadership in so many areas of society and industry, and sport is no different from women in education or women in agriculture et cetera. Also I want to make sure that we promote mentoring programs. I am very happy to mentor inspiring leaders, male and female, as they go on their journey through sports management.
Gone are the times when I would personally phone or fax the media with results of international games. I now get calls from the Canberra Times on a frequent basis chasing me for stories. The latest one is: Who is going to be the new coach of Canberra United? We will tell you next week.
I closely monitor the quality and quantity of media coverage of sport. It is such a pity that really not much has changed in 20 or 30 years. It is still less than three per cent newspaper coverage for women’s sport in the media - That’s another story. This is a little poster that I produced back in the 1980s [image shown ‘Get your kicks from soccer because it is a sport for all’] You will see the difference between this and what came 20 or 30 years later.
I left the Australian Women’s Soccer Association [AWSA] in 1992 when it seemed that the days of separate women’s associations were numbered and I had simply run out of energy. I just couldn’t cope any more with the battles against sexism, misogyny and a whole range of other little things that were going on. I really needed to take a break.
After nearly 12 years of a break, which I never stepped too far away from because I continued to play and coach at community level, I found myself being wooed back into administration. As you heard from Frances, for the past 11 years I have been CEO of the ACT Football Federation. It is the biggest sport in Canberra. And also seven years ago I got the opportunity to head up Canberra United, which is a program of Capital Football. Canberra United is the benchmark club in the W League. We are the only standalone team without an A-league team. FFA [Football Federation Australia] gave us the licence with confidence that Capital Football could finance it and manage it. I think we have proven with two championships in seven years and two premierships on top of that that we are doing a pretty good job.
I am the only female in such a position and I am the longest serving of nine state federation CEOs, which means that more often than not I am the only female sitting at the board table with my male colleagues, and sometimes that can be 10, 15, 20 or 25 people in the room. But, don’t worry, I can hold my own with them, and they know not to mess too much. That comes from information; that comes from knowledge; that comes from history; that comes from just being in the game.
Over the past decade we have seen tremendous change in football, much-needed transformational change. It is evident with everything that we do in Capital Football. Despite the piles of reports that called for reform in the sport prior to 2001, very few were effective in bringing about change compared to the independent Federal Government initiated report released by David Crawford in 2003. There were 53 recommendations in this report that reflected the totality of soccer’s problems. They included cronyism, nepotism, mismanagement, incompetence, lack of mutual trust and power struggles. Why would anybody want to get involved with that?
Change was vital for the sport’s sheer survival and future success. Part of that change involved amalgamating the scores of associations responsible for the game. So what was talked about before was now a reality. Recommendation 26 clearly articulated what needed to be done. As I said before, prior to the Crawford report Australian women’s soccer was looking at a merger with the Australian Soccer Federation without knowing the extent of the problems within that organisation. Around the same time the association experienced a premature collapse due to a range of peculiar and potentially fraudulent circumstances. It is fair to say that the CEO of Australian Women’s Soccer at the time led the board up the garden path and we had no idea that we were close to trading insolvent. This left only four separate independent state associations in 2003, which meant there was no obvious leadership. The ACT association that I had helped form was one of those four. This recommendation said that existing state and territory federations basically needed to amalgamate with Soccer Australia.
Under trying circumstances from 1974 until 2002, women’s football had made great progress. The women’s associations had government recognition as well as funding and participation was growing. But in reality, however, there was no official recognition by Soccer Australia or FIFA of the women’s associations. Even entry to the World Cup qualification tournaments had to go through FIFA. While we knew that this kind of recommendation or this path was inevitable, nobody actually said ‘how’ to make it happen. This had been going for 15 years. How do you make this amalgamation happen? That is another story that I don’t want to bore you with on how it happened, but we went through a rigorous process.
Then we move forward to the late 1990s where there was a series of events that significantly changed the face of football and particularly that for women. Interventions and public comments changed the profile of women’s football in unprecedented ways. These included the head of FIFA at the time, Sepp Blatter – he is still there - declaring that ‘the future of football is feminine’ after the huge success of the 1995 World Cup in Sweden, which had a sellout crowd of 60,000 spectators. With the upcoming World Cup in Canada, every single game will be sold out with anything from 50,000 to 80,000 spectators at every game.
Popular culture was also instrumental in changing attitudes with movies like Bend it like Beckham. I bet you have seen this many times with your grandchildren time and time again. Bend it like Beckham had a huge impact on young girls and women, and also no doubt on boys. [images shown] These are the programs from the first women’s World Cup in China in 1991 and also in 2007.
This particular controversial and somewhat startling Australian team calendar in 1999 also took the game to new heights in Australia and across the globe. [image shown] The Matildas calendar - I am sure you have all heard of it; you have probably not all seen it but I bet your husbands, brothers or your uncles have seen it – featuring cover girl Amy Taylor, also from Canberra - now a very successful TV presenter as Amy Dugan on WIN TV. Amy is probably the only player that has really made a career out of her football reputation but also being a very competent news presenter. Amy Taylor on your left and also Australia’s most capped player, male or female, Cheryl Salisbury. This particular calendar heralded a new fashion in football: ‘The Matildas, the new fashion in football’.
Whether or not we agree with the approach taken by the players to let the public see that they were actually real women and not men in disguise, there is no doubt it brought international recognition and changed attitudes towards the female player that were never realised in the previous 20 years. I should say there was no marketing strategy associated with this calendar. I was on the board at the time and I did not agree with the release of it, but the players wanted to do it. They wanted to do it to show people that they were actually real women. They’re real women. By stripping off and using the sex sells marketing strategy, the players were essentially reaching out to a particular audience to reduce the unwarranted stereotyping, discrediting and marginalising of the female player. This was a far cry from that first poster that I showed you of 1993 that told us to get our kicks from soccer because it was a sport for all.
When I was appointed CEO of Soccer Canberra in early 2004 and became the first woman to lead an organisation with responsibility for men’s and junior football as well as referees and coaching, it didn’t include women’s participation. According to some people I’d gone to the dark side. I was selling out on my sisters and I might as well have been working with the enemy. It was a tough time the first few years. I had to do a management restructure and we had to start the integration process. With the help of the ACT government and a facilitator that’s now history. But some people just didn’t understand or get how a woman could fill such a position.
One of my first tasks was to bring Soccer Canberra, Women’s Soccer Canberra, ACT Futsal and the referees association together with the aim of forming a single entity now known as Capital Football. What I was intent on doing was making sure that it was a new entity and it wasn’t one taking over the other and that there was recognition for all elements of the football family. So a new governance structure combined with a new management framework and the adoption of a new brand for football were vital instruments in persuading the parties to work together. Whilst the job was daunting, it would take years to make it all happen. One of the hardest things that I had to deal with, and I think this happens a lot in business, if you are working for an organisation particularly in Canberra if you are working for the government, is that conflict between your own personal views and your professional or business obligations. What you have to do from a business point of view because there are directives from somewhere compared to how you feel personally. There was very little room for compromise or deviation from national or my own board’s directives.
In particular I had to negotiate with the women’s association that I had been instrumental in forming 25 years ago that they had to give up their autonomy and engage with partners that they probably didn’t trust - remember the cronyism, nepotism, et cetera that was highlighted before. It also required the women’s association to start working inside the tent rather than outside on the fringe. So negotiating a compromise and looking forward to a better future under the new model and brand was always foremost in my mind.
In 2005 Soccer Canberra then became Capital Football. We were the first association to adopt a new national model constitution and we launched ACT Football Association - old soccer, new football. We had a memorandum of understanding with the other parties involved - the futsal and referees - we identified risks and we identified treatments of those risk timelines, et cetera that I won’t get into now. In 2007, Women’s Soccer Canberra, the former ACT Women’s Soccer Association, voted to wind up its business, acknowledging that women’s participation was stronger and better resourced than they had expected it to be under the new federation. Whilst this was a particularly sad meeting for me personally, I was confident that the women’s game had the capacity to mature into an equitable part of the football family in the near future. I was also determined not to toss the baby out with the bath water; it was simply a matter of refreshing that bath water and helping the baby grow.
Eight years after we started the integration process, all components of the football family are together. We have grown from having five staff in 2004 to 18 staff this year. I manage budgets. My budget last financial year was just over $4 million. We had a $183,000 surplus. We have over $1 million in reserve, compared to when I started with Soccer Canberra the organisation was close to insolvency.
Change is ongoing in so many areas of our business. Of significance is the inclusion of Canberra United in the Westfield W League, something that I am personally very proud of, and as I said I wear that second hat. As my Mother would say, ‘So you work 24:7, Heather, when do you get time to have a break?’ Well, I am going to take a month off in June.
Canberra United was a major achievement because the W-League is based on the A-League model. We don’t have an A-League team in Canberra. But we were able to convince FFA, as I mentioned before, that we had the capacity to sustain a Canberra women’s team. We had previously been in the National Soccer League. We had won it many times. We had a large number of players in the national team and we knew we could do it. But we don’t have an A-league team. There are a number of reasons for that.
If you have a look at this little poster [image shown] this was the first poster for the National Women’s League. It was ‘football with style’. We have gone from ‘get your kicks from soccer’ to ‘the new fashion in football’ to now ‘football with style’. To me they look like what some might call chicks on the disco dance floor, but it seemed to resonate apparently, particularly with girls from eight years old to maybe 13. That was the marketing campaign, a little bit more of sex sells in a slightly different way. I don’t see too many players with makeup like those players but they are real players - Grace Gill in the green from Canberra United.
It is interesting though that we don’t have an A-league team. Because you are here I need to tell you not because we are complacent and we can’t manage this, but I do often have to explain why we don’t have a team in the national men’s league. The main reason is that FFA hasn’t given us a licence. They haven’t given us a licence because it requires community or private ownership with around $8 million per year now to sustain a licence. We know how the Brumbies, the Raiders and other teams in national leagues have struggled in this town. In terms of being able to sustain it in a longer term sense, that’s a big ask. When FFA does expand the A-League probably in 2017-2018, I can’t see that Canberra is going to have a A-League team. This is not a gender issue; it is simply a commercial reality - we don’t have the population to sustain a licence.
Through collective efforts we have built Canberra United and there is a certain amount of jealousy around that, I can tell you. A lot of men in this town don’t like the idea that we have a women’s team but we don’t have a men’s. Anyway, we run it in a very progressive and professional way. We have been front-page news with the alleged ultimatum given to Ellyse Perry to make a decision between cricket and football. We never asked her to choose cricket or football; we just said you are playing cricket in Sydney, football in Canberra, one of them has to go.
We led the way with the appointment of highly-qualified coaches from overseas. I was the first CEO to appoint a pro-licensed international coach from the Czech Republic and then more recently a coach from Holland. We now have an opportunity to appoint a local coach who is being mentored by both those coaches. And of course we attract quality media and sponsorship support, particularly from September through to February.
My journey in football has been quite remarkable and it has also been rewarding. My job keeps me busy, as I have noted, and I oversee all aspects of competition management for men, women, juniors and futsal; all commercial operations; all business operations; and all high performance programs. I can tell you at times it’s tough. It’s definitely tough. This makes a bit of difference. It’s tough when personal, abusive and mischievous attacks are directed at me in an attempt to destabilise or turn me in a different direction and maybe even force my resignation.
Some of you may have read the Canberra Times article last year about the abusive bullying and harassment that I get in some areas of social media. The frustrating thing is that there is nothing we can do about that except ignore it, which is tough. The kinds of comments are very different from the troublemaker label that once was thrown at me in my earlier years when I was striving for equity, inclusion and respect for diversity rather than accepting the status quo. Overall I don’t mind the troublemaker label, because unless you cause a bit of trouble you don’t make change.
For the past three years, as Frances mentioned, I have also been on the organising committee for the men’s Asian Cup - just in case people think I don’t do anything for men’s football - which saw seven fantastic games played here in Canberra. The most successful venue and the most successful game was Iran versus Iraq with a full stadium, a phenomenal success which will bring $12.9 million surplus and hopefully a little bit of return to Canberra in Capital Football or infrastructure in Canberra as well. The success of that tournament and especially the part that we played in Canberra is something that I am very proud of.
As I am also proud of the fact that Canberra United won the seventh season in the W-League [image shown] with the player in the middle there, Lori Lindsay, a USA veteran and terrific role model for others. She chose to spend her final year playing football in Canberra with Canberra United. It was a great honour for her to take home a championship medal.
Since 1978 when my journey began as a player and I have moved through the years as a manager, a coach and a mentor, administrator, a leader, a trouble maker, I hope I have enabled many other women and girls to realise their potential through physical activity and sport. Also despite once being described as ‘a formidable woman’, which I wasn’t quite sure what that meant but I think it was supposed to be a compliment, I would like to think that I have inspired and provided hope for others to enjoy their participation, to take strategic action off the field to be a change agent and to make the environment and culture of sport a better place for all. Finally, I wondered where we would be if our great-great-grandmothers hadn’t followed their dreams in the first place – [image of female player from1894]. Thank you very much [applause] I am very happy to take questions if you would like.
QUESTION: How do you finance all this?
HEATHER REID: The bread and butter of the business comes from registered players. Registrations at nearly 18,000 represents probably close to two-thirds of our budget. Every player in Canberra who plays soccer contributes some registration fee to Capital Football. They pay a fee to their club and the club pays a fee to us. On top of that we probably get around $400,000 from Football Federation Australia and maybe $100,000 from the ACT government. The sponsorships for Canberra United are around $180,000 to $200,000 and gate receipts and program sales as well. But the bread and butter is growing the business and growing participation.
The challenge that we have now is that we are almost at capacity. We have very few places to play. Our indoor game is at capacity. There is high demand in north Canberra particularly for futsal. We are turning teams away. This year on the back of the men’s World Cup last year and the Asian Cup, we have another nine men’s teams that want to play. Now with nine men’s teams that means we go to 12 divisions - that is 120 teams of men’s open - plus four divisions of masters plus eight divisions of Premier League football. It’s huge and continues to grow.
QUESTION: That is huge.
HEATHER REID: The difference, to compare it, volleyball for example has 2,000 registered players. We have 18,000 so we don’t have to charge the players. Our fees haven’t gone up in the last five years at all. Our fees for a junior player are around $65 and then the club put their fees on top of it. So it’s a numbers game.
QUESTION: Congratulations, I think that’s marvellous. As the other football leagues and whatever have taken their sport to the outback, has soccer football done that as well?
HEATHER REID: Football is very big in rural and regional areas. I don’t think we engage the Indigenous population to the same extent as, say, Aussie Rules does at the national level. The Northern Territory has very high populations of Indigenous players. I tell my interstate colleagues that I am a little bit lucky compared to them because I really only look after a big city and a region. New South Wales has 10 or 15 of us. Capital Football is about the size of Blacktown region or Canterbury region or Illawarra. We are able to do a lot of things much easier than other colleagues because we are in face-to-face contact with people every day. I can go to the grounds and I do go to games on the weekends. I am talking and meeting with our constituents and I am hearing from them. Sometimes I don’t go because I need a break from it. But my colleagues in Perth or Sydney can’t have that same contact. I can tell you that we have about 150 kids that identify as Indigenous registered on our books. Regional areas for us include Yass, Goulburn, Cooma, Braidwood, Gundaroo and Jindabyne. That is how far we go. We are not just within this designated boundary of the ACT.
QUESTION: Thanks, Heather. I was wondering whether the women from Canberra United are paid to play and if they have jobs as well? How do they manage and balance that out with their playing?
HEATHER REID: Some people think they get paid a lot but they don’t. We have a sliding scale that I base on a fairly standard industrial model of professional sport. The rookies get $500 a season. So that means from August to - this last season started earlier in order to accommodate the Asian Cup. We started preseason in August and it was all done and dusted before Christmas. So four or five months - $500 for the rookie up to $7,000 for the highest-paid player. So they work; they study; and they combine their training.
For the international players and we have four on our books, we are obliged to make sure that we cover their return airfares and provide them with accommodation and a small allowance. I scramble to get well-meaning nice families to look after the players and I pay them $200 a week. They don’t come to play for the money; they come to play for the experience and the love of the game, which is a long way from where the men’s game is at.
If we had an A-League team the players would be expecting - I don’t know - $100,000 to play so hence the budget goes out. The salary cap for the A-League I think is $2.1 million. My total salary bill for the players is about $55,000 and the coach, despite rumour and talk around town, comes from overseas for $20,000 plus accommodation and travel. They really shouldn’t have to pay for too much. They get a meal every day at the AIS, so their main meal is at lunchtime, they are out on the training field at 4.30 - 5 o’clock in the evening and then they have something light in the evening. So $15 a day for all you can eat at the AIS is what keeps them going, and a bit of muesli when they start at my place.
QUESTION: You mentioned that about three per cent of newspaper coverage is for females. My feeling is that the Canberra Times would be higher than that and certainly on 666 Tim Gavel seems to give very high coverage of women’s sport.
HEATHER REID: Radio is much better, and radio is really powerful. I will get on the radio as often as I can because what you say is immediate, you can control the message and it’s not diluted. The Canberra Times are certainly the leading newspaper when it comes to women in sport, and especially in summer. We have a unique situation in Canberra where we have the Canberra Capitals, Canberra United and the Canberra Meteors in cricket all playing in national leagues in the summer time and we don’t have any men’s teams in that same space, other than more recently the Cavalry. So they want content.
We celebrate – and this is a deliberate title - the ‘summer of women’s sport’ by working together with cricket and basketball to promote women’s participation in sport. I prefer to call it ‘women in sport’ or ‘sport for women’ rather than women’s sport because it’s sport: it’s football, it’s hockey, it’s basketball. We don’t talk about men’s basketball or men’s hockey or men’s cricket so we have to change the language a little bit.
All of the data from every single season of the W-League shows that Canberra Times is way ahead of any other newspaper in terms of its coverage for sport, and Canberra United in particular. The trouble we have at the moment is in relation to TV coverage. You would have seen the impact of the Federal Government’s budget cuts on ABC - and hopefully not SBS too much. The ABC has said it is going to cut the live coverage of basketball and football on the weekends in the summer. That would be tragic. That would affect our bottom line and our sponsorship. The sponsors come because they can have their brand on TV every second Saturday afternoon. It’s about advertising and the commercial reality again. I am hoping that the FFA will be able to do something for a broadcast deal because you and my Mum and everybody else around town that likes to watch TV on a Saturday afternoon loves to see the W-League at 2 or 3 o’clock. I like to record it and re-watch it when I get home. That is vital.
Basketball is in a more difficult position with that and the media coverage. The men’s national league is not going strong. In fact, Andrew Gaze came out recently and said they should just scrap the whole lot and start again. Whereas the A-League is going strong, there is the Socceroos and the Matildas – there is always something happening in football so the media coverage is interesting. But it is improving for us.
QUESTION: A general question about games. Are rules changing? Are different games evolving to eliminate injuries? Things like touch footy never used to be around years ago, for example.
HEATHER REID: A lot of that is the management of the games and who is in control of the game. If you have the referee then it’s up to the referee to make sure the games are played within the rules of the game. Football should be a non-contact sport. But if you watch the game it is certainly not, especially at the national and international levels. I think for kids the game has changed a lot. For kids from four year olds through to 12s, they play four a side, seven a side and nine a side. They don’t start playing 11 a side until they are 12. That is really important. That means that kids are more involved but it also helps with the safety.
We like to think soccer is the safe football compared to league and union where you really do have the physical contact as part of the game. And touch as well, you have to have the physical contact. At the top state level I think it’s really about how the game is managed and making sure you stamp out that foul play or dangerous, reckless play.
I don’t play masters any more. I don’t know if there is anybody in the room playing it. We are very proud of having an over 35s women’s competition. It’s not too late to learn and not too late to play. The over 35s is what I call the ‘born agains’; they are not necessarily women who have played the game and then all of a sudden hit 35 and going into that division; they are mums, aunties, grandmums, they want to just play the game because they have watched their kids or watched their friends playing. I don’t play it myself first because I don’t have much time and I never get away from the game but also there are some uncoordinated people that just run into you and I have a greater sense of self-preservation these days.
QUESTION: I was just wondering, Heather, whether there is much being done in a strategic way to encourage women into management roles in sport.
HEATHER REID: Not enough. There’s a national women’s leadership program managed through the Australian Sports Commission. I have been fortunate to have a rolling three-year scholarship from that program. In the first year I was able to use the funding to do the Australian Institute of Company Directors course, which I highly recommend. I could never really read a financial statement but it is absolutely critical to the work that you do. I then went to a conference in Copenhagen the following year, and last year I went to Helsinki for a conference. All of that is about improving knowledge, learning and networking and having a good time.
But there is not enough happening in football and that is where my next journey will, I hope, take me. I want to be able to work with FIFA and the AFC [Asian Football Confederation] on leadership and management. There are great programs for women to become referees. There is a whole host of women travelling around the world running coaching courses for women but there are no separate management and leadership courses. We are crying out for that.
QUESTION: There is a fair amount of information now about the danger to brains from gridiron and from other sports where the brain hits the skull. Is there any move to take headers out of soccer?
HEATHER REID: I would love to see it removed from the junior game. You’re right. I think no player should be heading the ball until they are 18 or 20 - and even then. I don’t think there has been as much research done on brain-related injuries in soccer as a result of heading the ball as there is obviously in a contact sport like gridiron, league and union. The work that Peter Fitzsimmons, for example, keeps promoting in terms of concussion and the dangers of that. There are very strong concussion rules in soccer. For example, Ashley Sykes, one of our best and quickest players, had a concussion in one match. She wasn’t allowed to play for another three games. The medical requirements are very strong. We have great medical staff supporting that.
It’s interesting that many years ago FIFA introduced the compulsory wearing of shin guards. Everybody has to wear shin guards. I think this came about because of the rise of leg clashes and potential bleeding and the whole transmission of HIV-AIDS. But they have done nothing about head cuts. You go up to head a ball and there is another player there and you clash heads, you can have just as much an impact. But I don’t think we are going to see the day where players are wearing helmets.
Some people do wear a kind of a soft-padded helmet with permission from the authorities or a headband, but even then FIFA controls everything. Here’s another issue: the uniform rules apply equally to people in Canberra as they do to Alaska, Norway, England, Hawaii, et cetera. Long pants or tracksuit pants, long-sleeved shirts – men do wear long-sleeved shirts – but it is always the shorts and the stockings. Referees have to wear a long-sleeved shirt and shorts. In Canberra in winter that doesn’t make sense.
FRANCES BALDWIN: What are you going to do with the increasing population and lots of multinationals coming to Canberra if you are already at capacity? Where will you find more room?
HEATHER REID: We continue to work with the government on new facilities. We continue to diversify the product so we try to do more. We can’t play Monday to Friday because it’s dark and we don’t have grounds that have adequate lighting for matches. There is adequate lighting for training. Last year we introduced an 11 o’clock time slot on Saturday for men. Traditionally the men’s leagues have been 1 o’clock and 3 o’clock. Now we have gone to 11 o’clock. And this year we are introducing another one at 9 o’clock to cater for that extra division. So it is squeezing more into the weekend. Friday night football is taking off for one of the masters divisions, but there are few places where we can play on a Friday. We will just have to sneak into New South Wales.
QUESTION: I love to watch football now. The Asian Cup did something very special for me. I was thinking of your remark about helmets, and the way those people bounce that ball off their head is just fascinating.
HEATHER REID: It is a proper technique.
QUESTION: And their arms stay down like in Irish dancing the arms stay down. It seems to me to be a very graceful sport. It was also put to me recently by the school principal that a child who was finding difficulty with spelling would find the child’s spelling would improve if she got into more sport. Is that an area that’s being examined?
HEATHER REID: As part of the Asian Cup there was a school resource developed, a number of modules that helps kids understand what Asia is, the countries in Asia, the cultures and the various things that happen in those countries. There was also a mathematics module which helped them work out scores and tables and all the other calculations of who finishes where. I am sure that spelling or even writing these days would be part of that as well. That legacy is now coming forward so it will be re-branded with A-league and W-League brands and still in the school space for primary schools. Just reading would help a lot of students I think these days and not short form text.
QUESTION: I wonder if your Scottish parents had any idea of what their Australian born daughter was going to end up doing?
HEATHER REID: No. That makes me a bit emotional. My parents are very proud of me, obviously. My father passed away seven years ago on the eve of me being inducted into the FFA Hall of Fame. Now I have the AM. My mother says she’s bursting with pride to the extent she feels like a sausage about to burst its skin. So they are very proud.
FRANCES BALDWIN: You should be very proud as well, Heather. We are very proud of you as proud Canberrans. Thank you very much for coming this morning. Please thank Heather again for a fascinating talk. [applause]
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Date published: 01 January 2018