Young South Australian footballers getting together to celebrate 500 days until the Women's World Cup. (Image: Football South Australia)

With less than 500 days to go until the 2023 Women's World Cup, Football South Australia hosted a legacy carnival to engage with the community.

As Australia cracks the 500 day milestone in the countdown for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, Football South Australia celebrated by hosting a Legacy Carnival to engage grassroots footballers.

A World Cup is a special occasion for any nation, but for Australia it is a chance for a major, long lasting boost for a country with a football culture in its infancy.

There were wild celebrations when Australia was given the nod to host the 2023 Women’s World Cup, but as the reality sets in, planning is going on behind the scenes to ensure the inevitable momentum the global event generates translates to engagement and sustainable development

The Legacy Carnival was celebrated as a precursor to the WNPL preseason cup games, with around 200 junior female footballers playing small sided matches. The event was a great success which saw Football South Australia and grassroots football connect and engage.

Young footballers enjoying small sided games during the Legacy Carnival. (Image: Adam Butler/80Kms)

Football South Australia Vice-President Jane Rathjen, reiterated the importance of long term planning to ensure the State can maximize the benefit of an event like the Women’s World Cup.

The Federation has compiled a Legacy Plan and encourages stakeholders to give their opinion and suggestions of the legacy they would like to see the World Cup leave.

Dr Jane Rathjen stressed the three main pillars of the Legacy Plan.

“The first is participation so we can get more women and girls into playing,” she said.

“The second pillar is leadership and getting women and girls into leadership positions to feel like they can be part of clubs and to actually inspire other women and girls to become involved and have more touchpoints with the sport.

“Finally, our final pillar is facilities so we can enable more people to play, not just women and girls but everybody.

“When I came through you weren’t able to play at this age, now we have all these young girls being able to come out here and play. This is a fantastic step up, and I think the Women’s World Cup is going to have a huge impact to help girls feel enabled to play.”

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Natasha Stott Despoja, who was part of the World Cup bid Steering Committee, stressed that the success of the legacy of an event like the World Cup stretches further than the tangible.

“It’s not just about the dollars or the infrastructure, or even the wonderful upgrades to Coopers Stadium,” she explained.

“It is the things that you can’t count that we really should be valuing, such as growing the game and sending a message to women and girls everywhere that what they do matters and football is for everyone.”

Despoja mentioned that the focus should always be about embracing what makes us different and using football as a tool to connect, not divide.

“It [the Legacy Carnival] sends a symbolic message, not only that football is a game for everyone, but it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from.

“Whether you’re a boy, a girl, a man, a woman or what your background is, its really fundamental that it is inclusive and we celebrate all our diversity and all our differences. Football has been doing that for centuries!”

Adelaide City players celebrating 500 days until the World Cup. (Image: Adam Butler/80Kms)

One person who left a legacy in South Australian Football recently is Adelaide United Captain Isabel Hodgson, who led the Reds to a first ever finals series appearance.

Already a leader at the age of 25, Hodgson mirrored the Federation’s Legacy Plan pillar of women in leadership.

“Soccer has always been part of my life and when I am done playing, I’d really hope that I could stay within the programs and help out as much as I can,” she said.

Hodgson reflected on the start of her professional playing career in the A-League Women in 2014, and how far South Australian women’s football has progressed in the last eight years.

“The difference between when I first started and now is unbelievable. The amount of players playing and the talent coming through; obviously making finals has really shown how we have grown,” Hodgson remarked.

Most importantly, Hodgson believes that an event like the Legacy Carnival is a massive boost for representation, something she did not have when breaking into the world of football.

“It [the Legacy Carnival] is amazing. When I was younger this wasn’t really something that happened,” she said.

“For those young girls to look up to aspire to be like the players that are out there today, it’s just going to drive them to be better players and I can’t wait to see them all grown up and playing.”

Young footballers accompanying Adelaide City players to the field for their preseason cup match. (Image: Adam Butler/80Kms)

With the 500 day mark now bypassed with a wonderful event, Football South Australia will be hoping to keep the momentum going. This is not only until the World Cup, but for years afterwards through engagement, leadership and facilities along with equal opportunities for men and women.

Representation is key and events like the Legacy Carnival along with elite sportswomen gracing our shores in just under 500 days are the strongest examples of it.

To leave a long lasting legacy, Football South Australia will be wise to keep engaging parents and grassroots footballers as women’s football is expanding in popularity and quality year after year.

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