Australia’s federal government has added future FIFA Women’s World Cup matches featuring the Matildas national team to its anti-siphoning list to ensure free-to-air (FTA) coverage in the country.

The country’s anti-siphoning policy prevents subscription operators from securing the rights to some major events before giving FTA television broadcasters the opportunity to acquire them first.

FIFA World Cup matches involving the men’s Socceroos national team already feature on the list as part of a previous amendment.

The list now includes every match involving the senior Australian team for both tournaments, including the final, and qualifying matches involving the senior Australian team that are played on home soil.

The additions to the anti-siphoning list take effect on September 15, four days before the bids for Australian media rights to the 2027 FIFA Women’s World Cup close.

The move comes after pay-TV operator Optus Sport secured exclusive domestic rights to the recently held Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Legally, the broadcaster could have held onto its exclusive access to the tournament, which would have seen a reduced viewership.

However, it signed a carriage deal with commercial broadcaster Seven Network to offset costs and avoid negative publicity.

The government said the addition would “make it more likely” that Australians will be watching the Matildas for free in 2027 and in future FIFA Women’s World Cup tournaments.”

Australia’s Minister for Communications Michelle Rowlands said the Matildas’ inclusion was in recognition of the recent success of the team at this year’s World Cup, as well as women’s sport in Australia.

She said: “The Matildas’ incredible performance in the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup brought us together as a nation and will be talked about for years to come – we all shared in the excitement as the team progressed from stage to stage.

“They've inspired a whole new generation of Australian kids to take up soccer, boosting grassroots sports participation, while setting a number of viewership records as Australians tuned in and cheered our team on.

“Every Australian deserves the chance to enjoy live and free coverage of these events, no matter where they live or what they earn.”

Last month (August), the Matildas’ World Cup semi-final loss against England became the country’s most-watched television program, attracting an average audience of 7.13 million, with a total of 11.14 million viewers during its peak.

The viewership exceeded the audience for any of the men’s Australian Football League and National Rugby League grand finals, as well as any State of Origin match.

James Warburton, managing director and chief executive of Seven Network, said: “Seven applauds the government’s announcement to include key matches from the FIFA Women’s World Cup on the anti-siphoning list. Through Seven’s free broadcast and digital streaming on 7plus, the Matildas’ incredible World Cup journey became one of the biggest viewing events in Australian history – reaching over 14.8 million people on Seven and 3.82 million on 7plus.

“As the government seeks to modernize the anti-siphoning list, it is critical that BVOD rights are included alongside the broadcast rights to ensure that all Australians can watch their favorite sports on TV or online without a paywall barrier.”