Australian women look for league of their own

The coach of the successful Australian women's team, Tom Sermanni, has warned that the continued absence of an elite club competition threatens to bring the hard-won progress undone. The Matildas will compete in the World Cup in China in September and may also qualify for the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008. However, 16 months after Football Federation Australia joined the Asian Football Confederation, Australian women do not yet have a competitive club environment and many players are resorting to scratch games against junior men's sides to maintain the necessary levels of skill and fitness. The previous women's national league closed down in 2004, and while the A-League has since emerged to provide a professional competition for male footballers, their female counterparts are still without a league to call their own.

"It's critical now," Sermanni told Michael Cockerill of the Brisbane Times. "People talk about the problems in men's football since the demise of the youth league, well this is exactly the same. The longer we go on like this, the more players we're going to lose to the game. There are national leagues for women in netball, basketball, hockey and water polo, yet football, where the numbers are booming, doesn't have one. There is such a wide gulf between the academy programs and the national team. And when a player drops out of the national squad, they simply don't have anywhere to play. We desperately need the league to start up again, even if it's not got all the bells and whistles. I would be happy with just a single round of matches to get the ball rolling. I do know the FFA is aware of the problem, and they're supportive. And I understand it hasn't been easy for them since we moved into Asia, because there are so many things to put into place. But everyone appreciates it's now become a matter of urgency, and I've not given up hope that we might see it happen by the end of this year. With the academy programs, at least the basic structure is still in place."