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Matilda mania is sweeping Australia as its World Cup team breaks viewership records

The Matildas celebrate their victory in the epic penalty shoot-out against France.
Quinn Rooney
Getty Images
The Matildas celebrate their victory in the epic penalty shoot-out against France.

Call it soccer or football, the Australian women's team is on an unprecedented run in the World Cup.

Who are they? The Matildas are Australia's national women's soccer team, and have been surpassing expectations — even beyond the historic progress to the semi-finals in the Women's World Cup.

  • Their matches in the World Cup have been smashing Australian viewership records: the quarter final win against France on the weekend was the most watched TV event this year, and the most watched sporting event down under in 18 years.
  • What's the big deal? Aside from the sheer vibes from a good game of sport? Well, the Matildas are proving that they can succeed far beyond just their athletic capabilities.

  • As NPR's Diaa Hadid has reported from the ground in Australia, stadiums to see the team play are continually selling out, and public viewing areas are reaching capacity whenever the Matildas are on.
  • The hubbub for their Saturday game against France was so big it delayed a major men's game from the AFL – Australia's most popular football code – to ensure no overlap.
  • Some longtime observers say this swell of support marks a shift from a culture of skepticism towards the viability of women's sports as national entertainment, and comes with a bittersweet tinge.
  • Author and academic Fiona Crawford shared that for a women's invitational World Cup 35 years ago, the players stitched their own logos onto hand-me-down men's jerseys, and funded their trip with bake sales.
  • A turning point came in 2015, when the women went on strike, forcing sports officials to pay attention. A few years later, they achieved pay parity with the men's team.

  • Want more on women's sports? Listen to Consider This on the current moment for women's college basketball.

    What are people saying? Hadid spoke to some of those voices who have watched female athletes fight on the field and on the screen for their credit.

    Crawford on the progress made by the Matildas:

    The audience was always there. It's just never been catered to, if you like.

    That's why this tournament is so significant and why we're all feeling so emotional. It's that, for so long, we've been told there's no value. There's no market. There's no audience. But you can't help but wonder - could we have been here a little bit sooner?

    Van Badham, a columnist for The Guardian, who wrote about the joy and sadness in watching the Matildas and their young fans:

    They were screaming and leaping on their seats. Nobody was policing them, telling them to be more ladylike. Nobody was telling them to "settle petal." There was finally this cultural moment where these girls could be themselves, and that really brought it all home to me. I burst into tears.

    So, what now?

  • The Matildas will face England's Lionesses on Wednesday, Eastern Time, with the victors securing a spot in the Women's World Cup final.
  • And Australian journalist Patricia Karvelas had this observation on the shift in culture: "Remember when they used to say no one wanted to watch women play sport? Apparently, everyone wants to watch women play sport at the elite level."
  • Learn more:

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  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.