In Kyah Simon’s long career, this moment would be one of the most beautiful. When Australia’s soccer players meet Denmark in the round of 16 of the home World Cup on Monday (12.30 p.m. / ARD), the 32-year-old could be on the lawn in Sydney for the first time after months of injury in this tournament, which is also very special for her family. She is one of only two Matildas players of indigenous Aboriginal ancestry to be the focus of the finals.

“She can change a game, that’s especially important in big games. She faces every situation and is mentally strong,” said coach Tony Gustavsson. A cruciate ligament tear almost prevented Simon from participating in the World Cup, who plays for Tottenham Hotspur in England. She has scored important World Cup goals for her country since the 2011 finals in Germany. She said she didn’t sleep a second the night before the squad was announced. And when it was clear that she was there against all odds, the attacker burst into tears.

Simon trained with the team for the first time on Sunday and can hope to play at the Australia Stadium in the first knockout game. It gets special there even before kick-off, because that’s also the time for the Aborigines. Smoke rises, didgeridoo sounds waft through the stadium and tribal elders greet the fans. At every World Cup game on Australian soil, their traditions of the so-called “Acknowledgment of Country” are part of it. Dating from the culture of Australia’s oldest peoples, the ritual honors the country’s traditional roots. It has been an integral part of public events for several years – including this World Cup.

Fifa had already announced a number of initiatives to give the indigenous peoples of the host countries Australia and New Zealand a special opportunity to participate. “You can’t just play football and leave out the people without whom this nation would not exist,” Fifa general secretary Fatma Soumara told AP before the tournament.

Fifa runs the “Unite for Indigenous Peoples” campaign. In the arenas, flags of the Australian and New Zealand natives fly, for the names of the stadiums and places, the world association uses the designation in the traditional national language in addition to the English.

But the measures have recently been heavily criticized. The indigenous organization “Indigenous Football Australia” (Ifa) spoke of “empty symbolism”. In a letter of complaint, the group criticized the “Legacy ’23” report released by Football Australia in July. The paper formulates goals for the further promotion of women’s football in the region. Ifa’s main point of criticism: The role of indigenous soccer players is mentioned, but no financial support for indigenous sports clubs and initiatives is planned.

“If there are funds, they should definitely go in that direction,” said Australian Women’s Footballers’ defender and reserve captain Steph Catley at a press conference ahead of their group game against Nigeria. “It’s something that’s very close to our team’s hearts.” The Matildas have already shown in 2021 that they are committed to indigenous causes: Before the Olympic Games in Tokyo, they posed for their team photo with the Aboriginal flag instead of the Australian one.

The team currently have two players in the squad in Simon and goalkeeper Lydia Williams who are of Aboriginal descent. When Fifa announced that indigenous flags would also be allowed in the stadiums, Simon told the Australian press agency AAP: “There is no better place than the Australian homeland to show the culture and heritage of the indigenous people.” She hopes that people from abroad will see the diverse culture of their country and learn something, Simon continued.

Australia is home to approximately 984,000 Indigenous people who identify with various Aboriginal peoples or Torres Strait Islander groups. They make up 3.8 percent of the Australian population (as of June 2021). During the colonization of Australia there have been numerous massacres of indigenous people. In addition, until the 1970s, indigenous mothers were systematically robbed of their children to raise them in white families. Australia calls those affected the “Stolen Generations”. This includes the first Indigenous Matilda player, Karen Menzies.