Is the new AFLW just what women's sport in Australia needs to lift interest and exposure or is it a sideshow that rewards mediocrity and distracts attention from our top female athletes?
At S.E.M. we’ve always been huge advocates of women’s sport. In fact our three doctors also happen to be the head doctors of WA’s 3 highest profile women’s sporting teams (West Coast Fever Netball, Lynx Basketball and Fremantle Dockers Women’s Teams).
The successful commencement of the AFLW competition has led to mixed emotions and mixed reviews amongst people with seemingly the same agenda: to promote and support female athletes, athletic female role models and encouraging all girls and women to reap the advantages of being strong and active
Initially I could only see the AFLW competition as a great thing. But after reading comments made by Lynx coach Andy Stewart (article here), I could certainly see another side to the coin. High level women’s sport is not new. We have some of the world’s best teams in Netball, Basketball, Hockey, Rugby and even Soccer. Our domestic competitions in those sports are of the highest quality seen anywhere, yet the Lynx can host a home game featuring three Olympians and draw less than 800 people in the crowd. A number of current AFLW teams feature basketballers that were unable to make it in the WNBL.
Anyone who wants to support women’s sport has had the opportunity to get behind these teams. Women’s footy isn’t new either but it has failed to draw the attention that it now demands with slick AFL marketing.
In the last few weeks I’ve put these questions to a lot of stakeholders in women’s sport. Most, including those in sports competing for attention, are overwhelmingly in favour of the new AFLW. To be fair, Stewart is probably right when he says that the AFLW has an inferior standard product when comparing previously part-time athletes and code-switchers to women who’ve dedicated and sacrificed for their entire lives to one sport which they perform at a world level. But it is also fair to say that other codes and sponsors have not been as proactive in backing and promoting their product and getting the exposure they deserve. If the AFLW can influence a much-needed cultural shift where we all become used to watching women’s sport regularly with the same interest and passion as men, we may well see it flow on to all women’s sport.
Bridie O’Donnell is the most impressive sportswoman you’ve never heard of and has more right than anyone to feel both jaded and jealous. She sacrificed a medical career and was overlooked for the Beijing Olympics when she was Australian National Time Trial Champion (cycling). She raced overseas for meagre earnings in a global sport and a World Record for the 1hr time trial. She received very little recognition for an unfathomable amount of sacrifice in a sport where the dominant men are multi-millionaires. Yet when I asked her about the AFLW she could only see positives in the skill level, atmosphere and example being set for girls in sport.
Personally, for my daughter’s sake, I’m hoping that the success of the AFLW enhances the image of all women’s sport across all codes, levels and ages.