The third season of women’s Australian Football League (AFLW) is about to get underway with two new teams taking part – North Melbourne and Geelong. AFLW is still relatively new having started just three years ago in 2017. It began with just eight teams taking part, so this season’s addition will take the total number of teams participating up to ten.
The increase of teams and therefore matches is to be welcomed, but it is a shame the body in charge of Australian Rules Football, the AFL, are not really promoting the women’s game as well as they ought to be. In fact, just they seem to be doing just the opposite.
The year before the AFLW came into being the AFL launched AFLX. For the uninitiated AFLX is a condensed version of the full length Australian Rules Football game. There are two halves each of which last ten minutes, with a 2-minute break in between.
Each participating AFLX team can field seven players at any one time, and they are allowed a further three players per side on the benches. Rotations are unlimited.
The whole ethos behind AFLX was to widen the appeal of Australian Rules football and create new interest in a wider audience. However, it has not been successful either as far as fans of the sport are concerned or the sports media.
Richard Hinds, a prominent sports journalist who works for ABC Grandstand, is a leading voice in having this option of Aussie Rules Football dropped. He holds no punches when he labels it as a hollow game that has no atmosphere, without any appeal, and pressure free. He calls it an “oval in a rectangle hole yawn-fest”.
Unfortunately, The AFL seems determined to carry on supporting this mini version of the real thing, maintaining that AFLX may appeal to an audience that is not used to watching games that last as long a regular AFL Premiership matches do.
The pity about all this is that if it were to be dropped it would enable money to be channeled into AFLW, especially bearing in mind that it is entering only its third season. The AFLX format is a pre-season tournament that currently consists of only four teams.
Last year the entire AFLX tournament was watched by just under 43,000 spectators. By comperison, one AFLW match – the game between Freemantle Dockers and Collinwood was watched by slightly under 42,000.
It seems rather short-sighted of the AFL to split funding and audiences when the AFLW format is gathering pace and interest. Watching sport and sports betting is enormously popular in Australia, whether its tennis, horse racing or AFL etc. A stable, healthy AFLW can contribute significantly to the enjoyment of both spectators and bettors.
Inequality in sport, in general, is still rife in many areas and AFLW is a huge case in point. Even having recently had a 38% pay increase, the life of women players is substantially different to that of their male counterparts, with female players still being forced to hold down a job at the same time as playing footy.
But politics aside, the new season is about to kick-off with heightened interest following the addition of the two new teams mentioned earlier and a further four new additions being talked about for next season.
The fight is well and truly on to build a sustainable AFLW with 100% professional female players.