AFL Women’s League – Let’s Put This Into Perspective
By Sally Thompson
Elite women’s football is finally here; it’s tough, it’s proud, it’s unique, it’s intense, and it is definitely here to stay. This weekend was a watershed moment in Australian sporting history for not only the AFL, but for all Australians, and especially for little girls all over the country. This weekend over 50 thousand fans turned up to the grounds for the first round, the opening match between Carlton and Collingwood saw 1.1 million households tune in to watch. But beyond the extreme emotion and tears of joy for so many, there are the haters. Those that will always look for whatever reason they can find to claim that women have no place in sport.
I have been keeping tabs on social media to find out what the naysayers are using as ‘evidence’ that women shouldn’t play the game. While the overwhelming response was positive, I did find a claim that the low score lines somehow proved that women have no business kicking a footy.
Well, let’s look at round 1 and see if we can put it into context.
Firstly, women’s matches are roughly half the length of the men’s. The women’s game has been limited to 15-minute quarters with time on given only for stoppages due to injury or a goal; it is intended to be a fast, exciting, no stoppage game. In contrast, the majority of the quarters played last season in the men’s game exceeded 30 minutes (over 2 thirds of them, according to the AFL). In the 2016 AFL season, the average team score was 88. If we halved that to account for the halved playing time, the average would be 44. Of the 8 AFLW teams that played this weekend, 3 of them posted scores in the 40s.
— BronwenScott (@brozsue) February 3, 2017
There are other factors which might keep the scores low in the beginning, but these things also make the games, and what these women do, even more extraordinary.
When a new player enters the AFL he is usually the only debutant and is surrounded by senior players. Every player in the AFLW this weekend was a debutant; there were no senior players (who have played in this semi-professional league) to hide behind or learn from. The players are still getting to know their teammates, they’re playing on larger grounds and with fewer players than they’re accustomed. It’s also worth remembering that these women are not full-time footballers, yet work normal jobs, fitting in training and playing around their work commitments. While some players don’t even live in the same state as their club.
It’s an interesting side note to look at the AFLW in the context of the emergence of the VFL. In 1897, the male players were also amateurs, also without elite performance programs, and although they were playing full-length games the scoreboards look strikingly similar.
|VFL Round 1||AFL Round 1|
What I saw this weekend was not the scoreboard. I saw women fighting for every touch with an intensity that I have not seen in a long time. I saw a skilful grass roots style footy; I saw footy reminiscent of the old days of the VFL.
The hits were bone crunching and the desperation at every contest was something I felt in my soul. I felt it so deeply because for the first time, I felt part of ‘the AFL’. When I started playing footy, girls were not allowed to play in the junior leagues; luckily for me my father was the coach so he played me anyway and dealt with the league afterwards. As much as I have loved AFL my entire life, I have never felt connected to ‘the AFL’, because ‘the AFL’ has always excluded me. I hadn’t consciously realised this until Friday night, when for the first time in my life, ‘the AFL’ did include me; and the thousands of little girls that went to the games over the weekend, or the hundreds of thousands that might have watched it on TV would have felt like ‘the AFL’ included them too. Feeling, for the first time, the exact same emotions that their brothers have felt for 150 years.
As much as I have loved AFL my entire life, I have never felt connected to ‘the AFL’, because ‘the AFL’ has always excluded me. I hadn’t consciously realised this until Friday night, when for the first time in my life, ‘the AFL’ did include me
The keyboard warriors claiming that this weekend’s scores prove that women have no place in the game are ignorant fools. The scores in the AFLW will increase as the league settles and the players adjust to this new and unique brand of elite football. What matters far more than the scoreboard this season (so long as the Doggies win) is that little girls now feel like the AFL includes them. They have a women’s league to watch now, a league that they can dream about one day playing in; and what matters most is that those girls are now encouraged to play just like their brothers are.