06/03/2016 6:21 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

This Is What Happens When You Pay People More Fairly

Kaz Photography via Getty Images
OSAKA, JAPAN - FEBRUARY 29: Australia celebrate their 3rd goal of Katrina Gorry of Australia during the AFC Women's Olympic Final Qualification Round match between Australia and Japan at Kincho Stadium on February 29, 2016 in Osaka, Japan. (Photo by Kaz Photography/Getty Images)

It's hard to pinpoint the exact reason The Matildas are playing with a verve and energy right now, but it may have something to do with the fact they know that their futures are now (somewhat) more secure.

On Monday night The Matildas faced Japan, the world number four and World Cup finalists, in an Olympic qualifier in Osaka. In the first half in particular, the Australian side looked slick, committed, and all over a Japanese side they had traditionally failed to deal with.

As a result, they won 3-1.

Less than 12 months ago, they faced Japan at the World Cup with the Japanese side running out 1-0 winners. That particular contest was characterised by an Australian side with all the commitment they could muster, but more often than not defending as wave after wave of Japanese attacks eventually broke the side down.

For large phases of the game on Monday night the paradigm looked upside down. It was Australia applying the pressure, and the Japanese side struggling to deal with the Australians.


While it was true that the Matildas may have been helped (in more ways than one) by a referee willing to let more robust play go on -- the improvement was there for all to see.

So what changed in between contests?

Some observers will note that this was the performance the side always had in them, while others will point to the differing circumstances of the games. But 2015 was the year a new wave of professionalism started to take hold in the women's game. That professionalism was driven by two things: Melbourne City's investment in the league, and a collective bargaining agreement.

It was the first year Melbourne City entered the W-League, and it's no accident that three of the starting line-up on Monday played for the club. It swept all before them, going the entire season undefeated (although it was taken to a penalty shoot-out in the semi-final) and the club's recipe for achieving and incredible season was quite simple. Spend the salary cap, and allow players to use the best training facilities in the competition.

The FFA has set a theoretical salary cap for W-League sides, but the financially constrained-clubs consistently spend under the cap. Melbourne City, however, backed by wealthy owners, put the investment in by spending its whole allocation and, lo and behold, it got a result.

Much has been written about the effect of Melbourne City on the W-League and whether its investment well above other clubs was a good thing for the league. But observers have noted that the standard of play across the league was higher this year. Nothing like having a benchmark to chase to make you lift your game, train that little bit harder, to come up with solutions on how to stop the City behemoth.

Similarly, the Matildas are now on new contracts.

As a result of the painful, drawn-out negotiations, the Matildas were able to secure a wage of $41,000 per year at the top end, with a $30,000 salary for 'second-tier' players. This is aside from any club money they may get, and does not include allowances for players during matches and camps.

While it's still a far cry from true gender equality, and there's more work to be done, it is a big step up. It means that players who had to rip themselves away from their vocation and put themselves into financial stress to play for their country now feel a little bit safer in pursuing their passion.

The effect of this can not be overstated.

It means less stress for the players, and the ability to focus on their roles with the national side instead of always having the worry about their day jobs in the back of their minds.

Undoubtedly, the players before were unbelievably professional in their approach (especially considering the circumstances), but the psychological effect of being paid something approaching a living wage simply has to be encouraging.

The not so subtle message here is that if you invest in women's sport and pay committed players something approaching what they're worth, you get results.

Obviously it's just one good result there's still potential for the Matildas to crash out of Olympic qualifying, but the Japan result has laid a marker for the side. Let's hope it lays a marker for other professional sportswomen seeking some measure of financial security as well -- and reminds those with the pursestrings what can happen when you pay people more fairly.

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