A week on from International Women’s Day and a week out from the final round of the AFLW, I thought I’d look at the AFL’s effort to establish a women’s league. For those unfamiliar with AFL, it is a code of football and, the most popular sport in Australia despite being little known elsewhere.
This year the AFL decided to launch a women’s league in what has long been known as a game played by men. For the most part this has been extremely well received and supported. This is no fluke. Women have had a long association with the game as mothers, supporters, administrators and more recently as umpires. The AFL also threw its weight behind it and recruited nationally, secured free to air TV broadcasting, affiliated the 8 inaugural clubs with established men’s teams and gave the competition a chance to be seen and talked about by timing it so as not to coincide any of the well established sports.
While it is off to a fantastic start, the question remains will AFLW remain a success? On this I am uncertain but believe it can. To do so it will have to continue to grow. At the moment the biggest opportunity for growth, from a spectator point of view, is to increase the ease of scoring. While teams have no problem getting the ball close to goal they struggle to convert these opportunities into goals.
There are a lot of things that can be done to improve the ease of scoring but generally they fall into one of three categories:
- modify the game
- attract better talent
- work with what you’ve got
The AFL is likely to be open to tinkering with the game as it often re-interprets the rules of the game. Whether they go beyond interpreting to modifying the rules is probably the key question they have to answer. However, they should acknowledge that modifications can be really successful. Netball, for example, started off as a modification of basketball to make it easier to play in the clothes of the time. Below are some off the cuff examples of modifications:
- Adjust the rules to make it easier to gain territory. Currently if you mark (catch) a kick on the full the opposition stands where you caught it and you have to move back and kick over them. Could you instead kick the ball from where you caught it? Making it easier to gain territory would make it more difficult for opposition players to organise themselves in defense and therefore make scoring easier.
- Adjust the scoring system to make it easier to score. Currently if you score a goal you get 6 points and if you just miss you get a behind worth 1 point. The value of a behind could be increased to reduce the difference between a goal and a behind to possibly make games closer and more exciting.
- Limit the number of people allowed in the forward 50 metres. Effectively this means creating a no go zone close to goals for certain players. This would reduce congestion near goals and ensure attackers and defenders compete 1-1.
Attracting better talent effectively comes down to making AFLW a viable full-time sporting option. Netball, golf and tennis all provide women with better pathways to full-time professional sporting careers. The average netball wage is $67, 500 , while the minimum wage is $27, 500. This compares to an average wage of around $10,000 and a minimum wage of $8,500 in the AFLW. Irrespective of the fact the AFLW season is 8 weeks long compared to 17 weeks for super netball it is irrefutable that you need another job as an AFLW athlete.
Finally, AFL administrators will need to be courageous. The AFLW is in its inaugural year and its players and coaches are professional for the first time. Players and coaches will get better and the game will evolve. Whether this translates to a product that fans continue to engage with is uncertain but this is why it will require courage. Having the conviction to stand by a decision when irrefutable proof is lacking is not easy but it is courageous. #BeBoldForChange – the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day.