Talking point: Women can kick
Footy’s back and it’s all I want to talk about. But no one in my office understands the type of football I’m into – Australian rules, proper football.
Three years ago, I went to the first AFL Women’s (AFLW) match in history. It was on a hot February evening at Princes Park in Melbourne, with 24,500 of us packed into the ground.
The queues to get in (it was free to attend) stretched right around the park and across to neighbouring streets. We lined up and once we were inside the gates, we could barely move. A lockout was imposed at quarter-time to avoid overcrowding.
I watched as two teams, that I didn’t even support, made history. There they were, women, running around, kicking, marking, tackling, scoring.
Growing up, AFL was my favourite sport, and I never got to see someone like me playing. Every weekend, I would go to games and cheer on my side, but it was always men kicking, marking, tackling and scoring.
The only opportunity I was given to play AFL was in my final year of high school, for two weeks, during PE. So, instead, I played netball right through school onto university.
And then this year my football team, St Kilda, (finally) made its debut in women’s league.
Women’s AFL has been around for a few years, in fact, it is very popular in the UK. There are now six AFL teams for women and men in Scotland: the Falkirk Silverbacks, Kingdom Kangaroos in Fife, Edinburgh Bloods, Glasgow Sharks, Greater Glasgow Giants and West Lothian Eagles. In England, there are more than 25 teams, with seven teams in Wales.
In Australia, it all began in 2010, when an AFL-commissioned report recommended the creation of a national women’s league, and the first women’s draft was held three years later.
The momentum from that first premiership match in 2017 keeps growing. The 2019 AFLW grand final set a new crowd attendance record for a domestic women’s sport game in Australia, with 53,034 attending. More than half a million Australian women and girls are now playing one of the four main football codes in Australia.
So, are we really entering a golden era for women in sport?
I believe media coverage and reporting is crucial to growing women’s footy. As Durham University sport professor Stacey Pope found, the 2015 World Cup marked a tipping point in the coverage of women’s sport.
“Before this point, women’s experiences as sports fans and athletes were usually largely marginalised. There was a lot of deeply embedded institutional sexism in sports reporting, both broadcast and print. But that is starting to change,” she said.
Studies have demonstrated that male and female athletes are portrayed differently in newspapers as well as other media, with women’s sport “greatly underrepresented” and she found where such coverage did occur, “a number of techniques are used to devalue their sporting achievements”.
In the years since this research, the 2019 Women’s World Cup broke broadcasting records. FIFA said a combined 1.12 billion viewers tuned into the official broadcast of the tournament, a 30 per cent increase on the 2015 cup.
And FIFA president Gianni Infantino said the event was “a cultural phenomenon attracting more media attention than ever before”, adding: “If we promote and broadcast world-class football widely, whether it’s played by men or women, the fans will always want to watch.”