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AFL Women’s: A history of how we got here

This week sees the start of the Women’s AFL. It’s been a long journey, but finally, the majority of the population will have their own league.

The history of how we got here is fascinating. In the late 90s/early 2000s, the AFL Commission received some market research that revealed the existence of ‘women’.

Some of the more courageous men on the commission thought it would be interesting to see if this new group liked Australian Rules football. While there was a lot of resistance, it was decided to do some polling of this newly discovered group.

The polling revealed that not only did some women enjoy the sport of Australian Rules, but they also contributed quite a lot of money and time to the sport.

Initiatives were quickly put in place to pay lip service to valuing women, a policy that remains with us to this day.

At the time, the AFL medical advisors believed women would die if they went above a slow jog or produced sweat in any quantity. This caused the commission to avoid supporting radical ideas from some in the community that women could play football.

Over time, the commission received more and more advice that women could not only run but could do so while bouncing a ball or slotting a goal. Despite these counterintuitive findings, a more serious issue became apparent, a Women’s league might not make any money. Worse than that it could even lose money!

This was a significant challenge and the same reason why the AFL have not given a team to Tasmania. The AFL wants things to make their own money and not rely on handouts, except all those times the men’s teams get bailed out for being run incompetently.

Over time, however, it became evident that if the AFL didn’t support a women’s league, other sports would. The commission also thought it might be a good bit of PR so said ‘whack it in the Corporate Social Responsibility budget and see if we can write it off at tax time’.

The Commission were surprised that initial steps towards a women’s league were met with enthusiasm and even good ratings. Sensing this may not be the unmitigated disaster once feared, they went all in. As sponsors came on board the commission said ‘let’s try and make some money out of this, don’t pay them much and have them pay their own insurance.’

Now we stand at the dawn of a new era. Young girls everywhere can go to sleep dreaming of lining up an opponent on prime-time television and running right through them, with the commentators saying:

“The Match Review Committee will have a good look at that.”

“Oh definitely, she’ll get a few weeks for that.”

“I hope her opponent is paid up on her insurance.”

Sometimes dreams do come true.

Things I’d like to see from this season’s Women's AFL:

  • Women footballers become so successful they commit scandals and are forgiven no matter what
  • After a transgression, a female footballer sort of apologises but in doing so actually blames a man
  • A group of women footballers joke about drowning a male journalist on radio then wonder why everyone is so upset
  • A female football glasses her boyfriend only to later gain a high-paying gig on national TV like nothing happened

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