The seriously good news story we need: Women's AFL makes history | Women's Agenda

The seriously good news story we need: Women’s AFL makes history

If you flipped through the papers last weekend, you probably noticed it.

Women’s sport, and the AFL Women’s League in particular, was everywhere. Not confined to a few paragraphs inside the back pages: it was front and centre. There were news reports, front page spreads and feature articles throughout the various weekend magazines.

 

For almost all the women featured, despite heralding from different walks in life, playing professional footy was – and is – a dream come true. And it’s been easy for no one: the women set to star in the NAB AFL Women’s competition have worked hard, fought stereotypes and persevered in different realms for years.

No one is in the league because they are seeking fame or money: whilst they are being paid, the remuneration is almost nominal. These women are in it for the love of the game and them realising their dream is a dream for so many others.

For the 380,000 girls and young women who are currently playing AFL. For the hundreds and thousands of others who are now going to see it as an option.

For parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who want role models for their sons and daughters like Tiarna Ernst, the 28 year old Western Bulldogs player who is a full-time doctor and a part-time athlete.

Or Moana Hope, Collingwood’s marquee player, who works 18 hours a day juggling her job with her footy training, all the while being a fulltime carer for her younger sister who has a rare neurological condition. Or Daisy Pearce, a 28 year old midwife, who will captain the Melbourne Football Club.

For anyone who has ever bemoaned a lack of diverse role models for women, or a lack of truly inspiring role models in sports, your prayers have been answered. And it’s not just in Women’s AFL. The Women’s Big Bash cricket league is creating a raft of new household names as its popularity and visibility surges. It’s the same with netball and basketball. The professional opportunities for women in sport are finally on the up and its hard to see the trajectory slowing.                          

Over the past week, on television, in newspapers and online you could barely miss stories of the incredible women in AFL, which in itself is no small feat.

A lack of media exposure has long stymied women’s sport: historically it hasn’t attracted the same numbers of spectators as men’s sport which has meant advertisers have been less willing to invest. That’s made women’s sport less visible, which has reinforced the media’s lack of interest, and so the cycle has continued. 

Not anymore. Last year’s exhibition AFL women’s final match, which was broadcast live by Channel Seven in September, delivered bumper television ratings: it was the largest overall average audience in Melbourne of any AFL game during the 2016 home and away season.

Women’s sport is on the cusp of storming through and yesterday’s launch of the historic NAB AFL Women’s season, which kicks off tomorrow, made this perfectly apparent.

The AFL chief executive Gill McLachlan was unequivocal when he addressed the crowd gathered in Melbourne to mark the occasion. “This moment in women’s football – this apparent overnight success has in fact been over 100 years in the making,” he said. “It will be football like we’ve always known. There will be upsets, potentially thrashings and hopefully thrillers. But it will also be very different. This group of women players will create their own game.”

 Seeing the excitement, the passion, the celebration and the sheer scale of interest displayed at yesterday’s AFLW launch was a much needed tonic in a week with no shortage of bad news stories.     

The NAB Women’s AFL is the positive culmination of a long fight but it is here to stay. And that is seriously good news.

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