Right now I really need the Tyra Banks gif of “I was rooting for you! We were all rooting for you!” to convey my feelings towards right now. Because I was. I was on your side. The way you brought about AFLW, invested in it and set a bar of professionalism women’s sport is only just beginning to see had me sitting there right in your corner. This is significant because my true love has always been soccer, and growing up in NSW meant AFL wasn’t near the top two for my list of sports before the introduction of this competition.
From the moment you announced your new competition, AFLW, and I was sold by the bright, modern colours, the advertising, endorsements and the priority of having the players front and centre of your campaigns. I was aware you launched the competition earlier than expected, so I understood some of the concessions based around this, such as limiting the season to a mere eight weeks. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so clearly your professional competition wouldn’t be built in a day either.
And so, for the first season you had me. I was sold. There was legitimate considerations of hanging up my pair of shin pads and learning how to perform a specky like Erin Phillips did for the Crows. You guys had created the beginning of something great. I was witnessing the start of a legacy. I conceded that the skill level at times reflected a competition in its infancy, but these were girls of all different sizes (including those that don’t reach over 1.60m like me!) were tackling, kicking and flipping fearless all in the pursuit of playing a game they could only have dreamed of playing professionally when they were kids. Not only did the product sell me, but you guys held up your end of the bargain through advertising the league and having Channel 7 air a game each round. Finally a women’s competition that was accessible, and totally worth bargaining with my Mum to be able to watch it,, even if the result of the trade was having to sit through Escape to the Country afterwards. The first season had me choosing a team, watching avidly and at times being caught cheating on my childhood love of soccer by calling AFL “football” within my normal, everyday conversation.
With the LONG off season, yes I drifted back to soccer, however a huge part of me still remained waiting with bated breath for the next season of AFLW. When FINALLY the game I had been waiting, the first of the season Carlton v Collingwood, arrived. I had bargained with my Mum to watch it once again (somehow I always end up at her place during the important games) and sat on the edge of my couch to watch this game. Look it wasn’t great, we know that, the players probably know that. But first games of the season are rarely great. And you know what? I saw so much heart and desire by the players during that game, I would willingly sit through many seasons worth of those games if necessary for the game to develop naturally the way it ought to.
It’s after this first game where the Tyra Banks gif in me comes out.
Honestly there was the rumblings of it during the lead up to the game, but I didn’t realise until afterwards. Prior to the season I was left confused because you decided to change the rules only for the women’s competition, something to do with boundaries and kicking (I still don’t completely understand it mate).
With round one having just played out, you do something stupid. During my morning ritual Twitter checking, everyone is talking about a memo being sent to clubs to pressure coaches and teams to play a “more attacking and appealing” style of AFL. Not only this, but with the introduction of AFLX, the games I wanted to see, the one you had hyped up so much last year, was suddenly thrown on the back burner. You decide to not nurture the competition, through advertising, consistent rules and listening to players and fans, just being plain negligent. One simple thing, such as the games not being on channel 7 because of AFLX demonstrates your sudden neglect for a competition you were warriors for only 12 months prior. The impact just on a personal level meant I often to fight a dodge TV antenna and hope my Mum didn’t spot Poirot was on when I accidentally hit 7Two instead of 7Mate, or worse still, had no idea it was on so didn’t actually get to watch it. The impact on a broader scale is, will you treat this competition the way it deserves, with respect, love and most importantly patience as it grows into the fully professional, insanely brilliant competition women in Australia who love this game deserve to see.
Right now you might be asking, why am I only writing this letter now instead of at the beginning of the season when all these things were happening? Because you went one step further since the offseason begun (and the offseason isn’t barely old enough for a carton of milk to go sour). You decide to introduce “anti-density” rules to women’s games. What is this madness? Other codes would never consider such a thing. I mean, FIFA have never set out a rule to “stop parking the bus” or as you like to put it “anti-density” to keep in the “spirit of the game”. That’s because the organisation and governing body of a sport should not alter rules purely as a consequence of a certain style of play. Further, and more importantly, forget the fact my knowledge of AFL and it’s more intricate rules is like how AFL supporters understand offside from soccer, how dare you make rules for your game different based on the gender playing it? That is madness. It is also discrimination.
So dear AFL, I was rooting for you. I really, really was. You could even see the slight fear (or maybe it was amusement) in my English father’s face at the possibility of my switching codes and signing up to play your ‘great’ game. But you have not treated my game as a great game. You have not treated it fairly and given it the chance to grow, toddle around and gain it’s running legs to allow it the freedom to build into a sprint, like every great competition grows into. The women playing your game deserve better. The fans also deserve better. Grow up. Grow some tits and do what is fair and right by the players and fans.
At the end of the day, there will always be players and fans of women’s AFL. This is whether your governing body is there or not. Just look at the over 100 years of women’s AFL before you guys decided to get a ticket to this wonderful event.
A frustrated fan.