Wherever you come from, the common language is football

Just as Australia is home to hundreds of cultures, languages and nationalities, so too has the W-League become a space where our country’s vibrant, diverse communities have been increasingly represented.

Australia’s own multicultural history is reflected in the motley of backgrounds that lie behind every W-League player. Currently, the league is threaded through with at least 30 different nationalities, from First Nations footballers like Jada Mathyssen-Whyman, Gema Simon and Allira Toby to more recent international arrivals like Kayla Morrison (USA), Mariel Hecher (Brazil), Marushka Waldus (Netherlands), Olivia Chance (New Zealand), Chinatsu Kira (Japan), Gaby Garton (Argentina) and Julie-Ann Russell (Republic of Ireland).

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In fact, the number of international players that have flocked to the W-League has increased almost every year since the league’s inception in 2008. Excluding the 2020/21 season, the last three years have seen some of the highest number of international visa players registered in the league, with roughly one in five women having been born overseas since 2017. The W-League’s visa slot system has allowed almost 200 foreign players to ply their trade on Australia’s shores over the past 13 years.

Of those players, the United States is far and away the most-represented nation (97), with New Zealand (17), England (9) and Canada (9) coming in behind. This was largely due to the complementary W-League/NWSL calendars, allowing Americans to ply their trade in Australia during their winter and vice-versa.

By contrast, some of the most under-represented nations, which have had only one player registered in the W-League, include Chile, Ghana, Singapore, Nigeria, Serbia, Cameroon, Mexico, Turkey, Israel, South Korea, Trinidad & Tobago and Hong Kong.

Some of the W-League’s foreign players have represented their countries at the highest possible level. Former Canberra United skipper Rachel Corsie, for example, captained Scotland to their first Women’s World Cup in 2019, as did her Canberra team-mate Refiloe Jane, who helped South Africa qualify for the same tournament for the first time ever.

Adelaide United striker María José Rojas is one of the few players in the current season who has made an appearance at a Women’s World Cup, helping Chile finish runners-up at the 2018 Copa América and thus qualifying for the 2019 tournament the following year.

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Similarly, Melbourne Victory goalkeeper Gaby Garton was the third-choice glove-woman for Argentina in France, while three New Zealanders also took part in the 2019 edition: Annalie Longo (Melbourne Victory), Olivia Chance (Brisbane Roar) and Paige Satchell (Canberra United).

Other major tournament veterans include Melbourne City midfielder Chinatsu Kira, who won the 2014 Asian Cup with Japan, and Wanderers winger Julie-Ann Russell, who represented the Republic of Ireland during the 2013 and 2017 UEFA Women’s European Championship qualification campaigns.

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In fact, the W-League hasn’t just been home to players who have participated in football’s biggest tournaments, it has also provided a platform for players who have won them.

USA’s Megan Rapinoe holds the record for the most national trophies won by a player to appear in Australia’s top flight (men or women), with two World Cups and an Olympic gold to her name. She’s joined by Abi Dahlkemper, Jess McDonald and Emily Sonnett as American World Cup winners who have graced the W-League stage.

The league has also been home to World Cup winners and Olympic medallists from Canada (Shelina Zadorsky, Brittany Timko, Carmelina Moscato), Germany (Nadine Angerer, Ariane Hingst), Sweden (Jessica Samuelsson) and Japan (Yukari Kinga, Yuki Nagasato).

Overall, there have been 40 different nations represented in the W-League since 2008, four of which have been unique to the women’s competition: Cameroon (Estelle Johnson), Taiwan (Tseng Shu-o and Lin Chiung-ying), Iceland (Fanndís Friðriksdóttir, Þóra Björg Helgadóttir and Gunnhildur Jónsdóttir) and the United Arab Emirates (Natasha Dowie).

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Like the nation in which it exists, the W-League continues to welcome and celebrate the many different cultural threads that are woven into the fabric of modern Australian life. And while border restrictions have naturally resulted in a drop-off in international players, the W-League’s reputation abroad means it has still attracted a number of footballers and fans from around the world; all of them brought together by the love and the language of this truly global game.