With deep sadness and a heavy heart, Women Onside mourns the passing of Elaine Watson OAM - a trailblazer and matriarch of Australian football. Elaine's remarkable contributions to the sport have left an indelible mark on the football community, inspiring countless individuals and paving the way for women in football and for women's football in Australia.
After providing coaching and refereeing for her children’s teams in Queensland during the early 1970s, Elaine joined the Brisbane Junior Soccer Association (BJSA) and was instrumental in helping to establish the Queensland Women’s Soccer Association in 1975, becoming the foundation president. As the team manager in 1974 for the BJSA at the inaugural women’s national competition in Sydney, Elaine participated in the first meeting of State representatives that led to the formation of the Australian Women’s Soccer Association (AWSA). She was appointed as Vice President and remained in the position until 1977 when she was elected president of AWSA. She held that position for the next seven years to 1984, and after a one-year break, returned as President for a further four years from 1986. She continued in the Executive for a further three years before retiring from AWSA responsibilities.
Throughout her AWSA leadership tenure for two decades, Elaine also served as the tour leader or manager of the national team (now known as the Matildas) on numerous overseas tours, including the first AWSA trip in 1978 to the World Invitational Tournament in Taiwan and the pilot FIFA World Cup in China, 1988. During those years she worked with various national coaches at senior and youth levels. In addition, she helped secure federal government funding for appointing a full-time national executive director and opening a national office for the AWSA in Canberra. In this regard, Elaine’s role was vital in the professionalisation of women’s football administration in the mid-1980s. In 1981, she was the first person to be awarded life membership of the AWSA (subsequently transferred to the Football Australia honours list), and she received the Award of Merit from the Confederation of Sport in 1992.
Elaine was also a key advocate for the formation of the Oceania Women’s Football Confederation (OWFC) in 1982, having been appointed President of the Steering Committee and held various executive positions for the next decade. During this time, the OWFC convened four Oceania tournaments, including the World Cup qualification tournament in 1991. In addition, Elaine was part of the global push to get FIFA to convene a World Cup for women and have women’s football included in the Olympic Games.
In 1993, Elaine’s long-standing commitment to ensuring equal opportunities for girls and women in the male-dominated sport of football was recognised in the Australian New Year’s Honours List when she was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM). A fitting honour for a loyal and tenacious pioneer of the women’s game in Australia and Oceania.
Elaine released a publication on Australian Women’s Soccer – The First 20 Years in 1994. Often referred to as ‘Elaine’s Bible’ the publication is a personal account of Elaine’s experiences with women’s soccer over twenty years and records important decisions made by the AWSA executive during those pioneering days as well as listing all national championships, national teams and their tournaments.
Elaine’s unwavering dedication and tireless efforts towards promoting inclusivity, equality, and opportunity within football have been instrumental in shaping the landscape of the game. As a visionary leader, she was a driving force behind the growth and development of women's football, championing the rights of female players, referees, coaches, and administrators throughout her illustrious career. Her vast knowledge, strategic acumen, and unyielding passion for the game were instrumental in driving positive change and breaking down barriers for women in football.
Beyond her professional achievements, Elaine Watson was a beacon of inspiration for countless individuals, both on and off the field. She held an unwavering belief in the power of football as a vehicle for social change and the empowerment of women. Elaine's legacy will forever serve as a reminder that with determination and vision, one person, backed by a dedicated team, can make an extraordinary difference.
Women Onside extends our deepest sympathies and condolences to Elaine's family, friends, and loved ones in this time of profound loss. We share in their grief, for the void left by her passing will be felt throughout the football community and beyond. While Elaine may no longer be with us, her spirit and impact will live on, serving as a guiding light as we continue the work, she dedicated her life to.
As Women Onside, we pledge to honour Elaine Watson's memory by reinforcing our efforts to advance gender equality in football. We will continue to advocate for a future where women's football is given the recognition, support and resources it deserves. To further recognise Elaine’s contributions as a leader, mentor and role model extending over 25 years, Women Onside has established Elaine’s List for those women who aspire to be Board and Committee members, executive managers and leaders in the world game. Let us carry forward Elaine's legacy with determination, resilience and commitment to making football a game for all.
Rest in peace, Elaine Watson. Your passion, leadership and unwavering commitment to women's football will forever inspire us.