The AFL report card: Progress on women and diversity | Women's Agenda

The AFL report card: Progress on women and diversity

Nothing else matters this week, except for football. The television is full of it and supermarket shelves are emptying of four-n-twenty pie packs quicker than you can cook a footy frank.

Politicians know this. This is why every second crowd cut away this weekend is likely to be someone parliamentary. If I was a politician, I’d want a little of the footy gloss to rub off on me, too. Especially when you consider just how much the AFL contributes to addressing Australia’s big social problems.

So while everyone else is concentrating on stats about the Swans and the Hawks or the best and fairest count, I’m thinking about the footy numbers that matter to me the most.

$244,000. This is how much the Federal Government gave the AFL this year to help them promote Respect and Responsibility towards women through the game. Although 43% of the total AFL viewing audience are sheilas, the AFL’s greatest challenge is creating a code that is inclusive of girls. Inclusivity begins with opportunities to play the sport and ends when violence, sexual assault and exploitation of women at post-season piss-ups is no more.

2011 was the low watermark for gender inclusivity within the AFL, with the Ricky Nixon saga exposing the vulnerability of young women to men of power and fame within the code. Twelve months later, the AFL has piloted a program providing gender respect training for players aged 16-25 years. The program was developed with the help of research conducted by Drs Sue Dyson and Michael Flood.

The AFL is far from perfect when it comes to gender issues; but it is trying. When Buddy Franklin takes to the field on Saturday, he does so having been at the centre of a major gender controversy earlier this year involving clothing line, Nina & Pasadena. Franklin drew the ire, not just of prominent AFL women and Australian women’s commentators, but of the AFL itself when he promoted t-shirts depicting women in demeaning, soft porn poses. The AFL condemned his involvement as a breach of the AFL’s Respect and Responsibility Policy leading Franklin to quickly distance himself from the brand a short time later. Here’s a link to Nena & Pasadena’s Spring Collection 2012. You can decide for yourself whether the brand has listened to one of its most prominent shareholders.

1. That’s how many people it takes to make a difference through footy. Jason Ball is a proudly out Yarra Glen Footballer who called on the AFL to support the “No to Homophobia” campaign and end sexuality based sledging on and around the ground. On the weekend, the AFL showed campaign ads at the Preliminary Finals. Ball has helped put the issue of LGBTI rights on the agenda in a way few others could; all because he laces his boots every Saturday arvo.

30. That’s the number of the AFL Rule that bans racial and religious vilification. Today hefty playing and financial penalties are levelled on players, coaches and teams who breach it. The game has been changed forever by the introduction of Rule 30; it is this rule which makes the indigenous stats and the multicultural program possible.

11.4%. That’s the number of indigenous players employed by the AFL. It’s a staggering, under-reported statistic. Australia’s indigenous population makes up only 2% of the community and the unemployment rate of indigenous people sits at almost three times the rate of the rest of the population.

The AFL’s indigenous employment strategy is nothing short of remarkable and should be studied by political, legal and business fields – where employment  of indigenous people is tragically low – as a best practice case study of holistic support for success.

This year, the AFL Players Association produced a very informative (and very  cool) interactive Indigenous Players  Map; charting the country from which every indigenous listed player hails. It’s a beautiful and fascinating document, which has been put together with respect and care for its most disadvantaged members.

Indigenous employment is not just happening at a rookie recruit level. There aren’t many businesses in Australia who can boast having a senior manager who’s a Gunditjmara man. In 2012, Jason Mifsud shined a light on the way some clubs treat indigenous players in their list. Mifsud’s outspokenness almost cost him his job as the code’s community development manager. The AFL’s refusal of his resignation was an affirmation of the transformational, if at times challenging, significance of an indigenous leader being in a position to shape the game.

13. That’s the number of multicultural development officers that have been hired by the AFL and clubs to ensure people, regardless of racial or religious background, are playing and supporting footy. The AFL sees cultural diversity as integral to its business. That’s why there has been significant investment in a Multicultural program, which is both a talent spotting and community engagement project designed to increase support for the code amongst new arrivals. Some of the biggest names in the sport – Bachar Houli, Harry O’Brien, Israel Falou, Karmichael Hunt, Leigh Montagna and Nic Naitanui – are AFL Diversity Ambassadors.

It’s a big call, but the best investment in easing racial and religious tensions seen on the streets of Sydney in the last week, is the growth of the GWS Giants. While it may be hard to convince people who’ve never had human rights before of the importance of playing by secular rules; giving them an opportunity to learn fair play and good sportsmanship from the footy field might change hearts and minds quicker than any other government investment could.

And if you think the AFL can’t bring peace to troubled young Muslim men in Lakemba and beyond; think again. It is, after all, the AFL who unites Palestinians and Israeli boys once a year to play in the International Cup.

While the United Nations struggles to sort out a two-state solution; the AFL Peace Team plays under united colours.

2020. This is the year by which I hope the AFL’s progressive journey towards diversity and inclusion will be complete; when gender, sexuality and other forms of discrimination are also outlawed by the code.

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