PFA Co-Chief Executive Kathryn Gill enjoyed a decorated national team career with the Matildas, scoring 41 goals in 86 appearances and winning the 2010 AFC Asian Player of the Year. However, the Olympics eluded her, with Gill missing out due to non-selection and injury, despite scoring in multiple Olympic qualifiers in separate campaigns. Gill reflects on her personal journey alongside the Matildas’ route to the Games over the past two decades.

The Matildas’ path to the Olympic Games has been a challenging one, which makes it even more special for those involved in 2021.

Sydney 2000 was the first year the team was involved, with Sydney the host (the team had the opportunity to qualify from Atlanta 1996 onwards when women’s football was added to the Olympic programme). I was 15 at the time, watching from the stands as Sunni Hughes scored the goal of the tournament against Brazil in 2000, but the team were unable to progress from the group stage.

At Athens 2004, we qualified through Oceania, and I was an alternate for the final squad of 18. It was an interesting dynamic as qualification for the 2004 Olympics was through Oceania, which saw us beat Fiji in a campaign that didn’t really challenge us. 

Moving into Asia was a completely different story, as we were unable to qualify for two consecutive Olympics. Since joining the Asian Confederation in 2006, we missed out on Beijing 2008 and London 2012, finally making it through to Rio 2016, the year after I stepped away from football. 

The 2012 qualifying campaign was particularly tough for me personally. I had just undergone a knee reconstruction the month prior, ruling me out of the 2011 Women’s World Cup and 2012 Olympic qualifiers. It wasn’t until 2016 when I was no longer involved, that the team managed to secure a spot at the Rio Olympics.

Having qualified for 2020, Tokyo will be an Olympics that no player – and everyone else involved in sport – is likely to forget. The impact of COVID will be well and truly felt by all involved: it is the reality we are all faced with, and the athletes are no exception. 

It’s no doubt a challenging position to be in as an athlete. While there is the undeniable urge to represent your country, there are also the broader economic and public health concerns at play that won’t go unnoticed. The players, like all individuals, have been incredibly resilient over the last 12 months. They have mostly been living in COVID health ‘bubbles’, challenged with the uncertainty of if or when the tournament would go ahead. 

Gill representing the Matildas at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

There is a good balance in the team of experienced and younger players. The team is still relatively young and has a lot of learning to do under the new coach. There is no doubt that they face a tough group and will be well placed if they can get an early result over New Zealand before facing Sweden and the United States. 

In my current role with the PFA, there’s a sense of excitement now the tournament is finally here. We have been involved with the players in the lead up to the tournament, as well as engaging in consultation with the World Players Association, applying a player lens over the tournament to address any questions and alleviate any concerns or apprehensions the players may have around the tournament and the preparation leading up to it. 

I wish the players competing all the very best for the upcoming games and can’t wait to support the them at a tournament that alongside the FIFA World Cup is the pinnacle of women’s football!