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Tuesday, October 24 2017 @ 07:26 AM ACDT

Opinion: Now or never for AFLW call on international women - part one

General News

Uncharacteristically for myself I'll get straight to the point.  The AFL has a once in a generation opportunity to significantly boost world footy whilst at the same time add depth and colour to the AFLW, with a not unreasonable chance of even greater benefits down the track in terms of international representation for Australia's female footballers, all for virtually no cost.

The simple change - allow and encourage AFLW sides to add international rookies with no penalty to the number of players already on their lists.

The possible outcome - a pool of internationals ready to: boost the standard and colour of the AFLW, to promote the sport back home, to prove a semi-pro pathway exists, to one day provide opposition that will allow Australian women the chance to pull on an Australian jumper to play a true Aussie Rules international (a potentially alluring but difficult to quantify enhancement to AFLW).

The signs are that this opportunity will not be taken.

Below the case for the small but significant change is argued, including here and in part two we show the support by people from across the football spectrum, from the GWS Giants to a current AFLW player to an international captain and others involved in the game outside Australia.

With all due respect to the powers that be, this is a rallying cry to those that love the game, whether it involve male or female players.

 

The AFLW

In early 2017 Australian footy fans were captivated by the inaugural AFLW season - a semi-professional national women's league run by the AFL.  Ironically in the context of this story the first time many will have heard of a national women's league was here on worldfootynews.com when Tobietta Rhyman broke the news in The Future of Women’s Football in Australia.  Tobie herself was a British female player passionate about the game but was a trailblazer for female footy in England a few years too early to play for the Great Britain Swans at the International Cup.  A shout out to Tobie.

The 2017 AFLW season was a classic story of overnight success that was in fact years in the making. It was also a perfect example that the AFL can, when it puts its resources into action (both money but just as importantly its talented and passionate staff) create amazing outcomes. Female players that were almost unknown outside the confines of those that played or supported the local state leagues suddenly became household names across Australia. Clever marketing and use of the powerful AFL brand saw the coming league promoted at a personal level as prospective fans got to know the players in interviews and commercials, building their star power.  There are those that have said that the AFL cannot successfully promote a world footy event such as the International Cup because they only know how to deal in the rarefied air of big money and big stars; the AFLW, built from the ground up, has shown that is not true, they certainly can create a buzz from a low profile starting point.

International Opportunities Lost

But although there has been passion and dedication from some within AFL House for the International Cup over the years, there has never been a coordinated, full buy in to dramatically accelerate the game around the world.  I will not document all the various short-lived misadventures such as exhibition games not supported with any local club development, or bursts of investment suddenly cut short and attention turned elsewhere.  AFL CEO Gillon McLaughlan himself said in 2015 that their policies had been confused and "I think our international strategy has been disjointed and I don't think we've had a clear... there's been piecemeal approach to different markets, so I think it's been disjointed at the AFL and we haven't been coordinated like we need to be with the clubs".  There was even a bold (but possiby token) declaration by the former New Zealand Prime Minister (in office at the time) that the AFL should give his country a club - we may never know whether that was actively explored.

So world footy continues to grow but for the impatient amongst us it is far too slow.  For all this site's passion for international footy, the reality is that the gap between the men playing at IC17 and at AFL level is enormous, even at the top of Division 1.  The AFL filters tens of thousands of Australian boys and men down to just the elite cream of the crop, in the end pushing the very best of them through elite professional development.  To have an adult or even late teen come to the game and make it to Australia and have a successful professional career would be a freak event, with really the successes so far being only a few Irish players coming from the similar Gaelic football and some enormous North Americans crossing over to specifically fill ruckman roles.  The idea that another nation might rise to be able to offer a competitive on-field challenge to Australia in men's Aussie Rules, or even that a world team could do so, seems as far away as ever.

But then there are the women.

A true sporting revolution in Australia

The game is exploding in Australia, with hundreds of new women's and girls' teams formed just this year alone.  A wave of elite players will hit the AFLW in 4 or 5 years, perhaps less.  The explosion was already profound prior to 2017 but the impact of the AFLW has magnified it immensely.  Consider South Australia, rightly not considered a powerhouse in women's football.  Starting in 1991 with just 4 senior teams, this barely budged for years, before suddenly accelerating to 19 in 2016 then rocketing to 36 in 2017.  In better established regions such as Victoria the growth can't be as large in percentage terms but in sheer numbers is staggering.

... but yet to be fully realised at the top level

Right now we are in a narrow window in which the depth across the eight AFLW sides (probably ten or twelve in 2019) is somewhat limited.  Elite athletes from other sports were able to hold their own with just a few month's pre-season.  A player like Erin Philips was able to win the MVP despite not playing the game for more than a decade (though it must be noted she is an exceptional athlete who was playing in the WNBA and had grown up playing football).  The season was tremendous but a critical eye could see that the true talent dropped away beyond the top 3 or 4 players on each list.

Mind the gap

Meanwhile international female footy is improving rapidly.  The gap in general between them and the elite Australian women is still fairly large.  But the gap between the best internationals and the bottom half of AFLW lists is not so large.  In fact I would suggest that there are a few international women who may not be quite as athletic but would be superior footballers to those AFLW players in question.  None of this is to denigrate anyone - it is an affirmation of some of the quality we saw at IC17. This is supported by industry insiders as discussed later.

So let's assume we all want international footy to improve and the women playing it to be motivated and aim high.  And assume that the AFL would like more AFLW depth to improve the standard.  1 + 1 = 2

Imagine the boost to international clubs to show existing and prospective players a genuine and regular pathway to a semi-pro career.  And for those focussed on the men, any boost to international clubs and player numbers can only boost the growth for both genders.  Indeed the acceleration in the women's game may be the best thing that has ever happened to the men's game internationally.

But where is that pathway?  Ireland's Laura Corrigan-Duryea made it, but had a strong Gaelic football background and then moved to Australia and spent years in the VWFL.  

It is true that some international women could have made it to the inaugural AFLW season - the AFL clubs were not blind to their talent.  Devastatingly Canadian Kendra Heil did her knee after joining Collingwood, and countrywoman Aimee Legault was looking on track until a knee injury and visa issues curtailed her chances.

A fair go

But why make it such a huge punt for AFLW teams to have to set aside a position for international talent that may not have been tested yet in Australia football such as the VFLW?  The men's teams have an International Rookie spot available that is virtually a free hit for AFL clubs to speculate on overseas talent.  Do women not deserve the same opportunity?  Maybe this will be added in a few years time when it is almost too late and the gap has grown and such spots will rarely be filled anyway.

All these thoughts are not new or unique.  I've been dwelling on them for a long time and so have others.  Our own Troy Thompson was advocating for the women's International Cup to be played in 2016 not 2017 so that the talent would be on show prior to the AFLW starting.  The website Girls Play Footy recently published a piece by Peter Holden in which he pushed much the same cause - AFL must rectify the non-existence of international AFLW pathways.  Peter also cited former USAFL President Denis Ryan who made the point that "We don’t want to create a massive gap like there is between us with the men, we want to keep pace with the women, so really important that we don’t get left too far behind and there’s too bigger gap to make up".

Now Peter went further in suggested a sizeable scholarship for international players.  As much as I'd love to see that the reality is that the AFL are shy when it comes to spending money on international footy, with the possible exception of AFL Academy tours and the International Cup (they don't fund the teams but putting on the event is still a significant cost).  I'm not pushing for that kind of money at this point, I'd be delighted to simply see the AFL go for the bargain basement option - make 1 or 2 international rookie spots available for each team with no requirement for payment or no more than the minimum AFLW payment.  That may seem unfair but, off the record, I have spoken with the AFL and its clear there's no appetite to introduce such a list and they are definitely trying to limit AFLW costs as it is still in its infancy, so any chance for international rookie spots to occur must be at no cost.

But we know there are plenty of talented women who would put their careers on hold and jump at the chance to be immersed in a professional football environment for 6 months.  If they don't get a game they will still have learnt so much.  If they are good enough to make it then they can transition to the primary list the next year.

Pulling on an Australian jumper

And there's another tantalising possibility.  Sadly there is no foreseeable prospect of Australia's best men ever pulling on an Aussie jumper to play against another country or even world side, other than in the hybrid International Rules or maybe, just maybe, against some Irish players drawn from the AFL and playing reduced numbers AFLX (coming soon).  But for the women, if the game is nurtured internationally now, there's a chance it can be big enough to build a competitive opposition.  Indeed for many elite sportswomen overseas the challenges of finding a professional paying code to play are similar to Australia, so why can't it be that AFLW initially and the code in general longer term, provide that avenue?  Great Britain Swans GB Team Manager and GB Bulldogs player Jason Hill articulated it well in Women's game the key to taking footy global

It should also be noted that more than one AFLW player has mentioned that they played another sport prior to AFLW not just because of the lack of a professional league but because they wanted to represent Australia.  If the AFL want the AFLW to become the sport of choice for Australia's elite women they need to address this issue and help grow the solution.

Action required

The gap between AFLW and international women is only going to get bigger, if the game is going to properly support the international dimension it must do so now.  Don't wait to 2019 or 2020, that's an eternity given the trajectory of the sport for female footballers.  With the AFLW draft looming in late October the clubs will be finalising their lists.  It would be such a waste if they couldn't at least offer one speculative rookie spot to international players without having to overlook an Aussie in exchange.

How strong is the international footy community?  How strong is the women's footy community?  If we combine our enthusiasm, passion and advocacy skills, can we make international rookie spots a reality for season 2018?  It's not too late, hit social media, hit your contacts, somehow, let's make this happen. It may not revolutionise the game, but it could give international footy the hard earned free kick it needs and one day it may just repay Australian footy many times over.

In part two we'll publish some of the voices supporting this push.

 

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Opinion: Now or never for AFLW call on international women - part one | 5 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Opinion: Now or never for AFLW call on international women - part one
Authored by: Wesley Hull on Wednesday, September 20 2017 @ 09:37 AM ACST

There will be all manner of opinions on this argument coming from all levels of involvement in the women's game - or the game in general - and all will of value in the overall fabric of this argument. But, for what it's worth, here's mine.

Since 2006 when I first started coaching girls in school teams (primary) the standards have risen remarkably at this ground roots level. It would not be unfair to say that the first girls in 2006 made up the numbers and struggled to understand the game and were very reluctant to play in games against same age boys (the only available opposition).

By 2009 I had a super girls team that unluckily lost our local schools tournament by just a point. The team now had three or four bone fide "stars" (three of which are major players in the Cairns women's competition today). In just three years I had enough girls to almost make a second team and the higher level talent was exciting.

More than anything that year was a turning point when other girls in the team wanted to be like our best players in the team - genuine examples of some girls inspiring others.

Fast forward to 2017 and in three weeks time I take my primary schools girls team from up here in Cairns down to the Sunshine Coast as one of the four best schools in the entire state to compete in the AFLQ Queensland Schools Cup State Championships. Their journey this year has seen them win the Cairns district title, the North Queensland regional title and along the way most were involved in winning the inaugural Girls 10-12 years Peninsula Title (part of the national schools pathway).

These girls are terrific. They are fearless, talented, athletic and at 11-12 years of age they are the future stars of our local, state and potentially national women's leagues and clubs.

The most compelling evidence of the change these girls have made to local footy is to weeks ago when I kept my girls together as a team in a district schools AFL carnival playing against boys teams. Listening to the boys saying "Oh, no, we've got the girls next match" was such a telling statement of both fear and the respect these boys held our girls in (the girls came second in the tournament).

So where am I going with this example? Quite simply, my own journey with girl's footy from 2006 to 2017 has started from very modest beginnings to something that is the pride of our district and possibly even our region. Every aspect of the game is improving. Is it coaching? Possibly. Is it the girls? Most definitely. Or is it the ongoing opportunity put in front of them to grow? Absolutely.

Without working hard to create the opportunities the game simply could not have grown here as it has, regardless of the talent or interest.

Thi is the point where my experience dovetails with this article. The AFL MUST open the gates and create every opportunity for the women's game to flourish. The men's game already has players from Ireland, USA and more at the highest level. This has to be offered also to the women's game to harness the BEST available talent worldwide and create a showpiece for girls and women everywhere to aspire to. Don't contain it to a few select clubs with a few select restrictions just because the game doesn't yet look like the best of men's AFL..do it because the growth between 2017 and 2027 will be phenomenal (just like it has been up here with my girls).

My story is just one of hundreds of similar stories - but they all would show the same things as common threads - increased participation, increased opportunity, increased talent, increased enjoyment.

If the AFL is not prepared to open the doors to ALL women and make this the greatest showcase of women's footy then they are doing an injustice to my girls and all other girls who are aspiring to the greatest heights or any height they wish.

Opinion: Now or never for AFLW call on international women - part one
Authored by: Harley Vague on Wednesday, September 20 2017 @ 01:39 PM ACST

Unfortunately this is another case good ideas, good intentions and good directions being sucked into the vacuum of football-other-than-AFL. If the AFLW is independent of the AFL, then they should be making the decisions in this case.

Opinion: Now or never for AFLW call on international women - part one
Authored by: Cam Homes on Thursday, September 21 2017 @ 10:56 AM ACST

It's probably worth reminding everyone that the Americans that have managed to get some games in the AFL ( ie. Cox, Holmes, is there one more?) all were drawn from other sports, so it is very questionable how much that has inspired existing players or potential players to take up the game in the USA. Also it makes you wonder how the likes of Katie Klatt and others (busted a gut and spent big bucks to try to get drafted only to see players who had never played Aussie Rules be drafted and play in the inaugural AFLW competition) felt.

I think it is pretty weird that the AFL (world ruling body) seems to think that taking elite athletes from other sports is somehow promoting AFL ( the code) in other parts of the world and inspiring other nations and nationalities to take up the game. DUH !!!!

Brett, you seem even more pessimistic than me about this, is this really a case of the AFL totally missing the bus/train/bandwagon.

DO we at least have a smidgen of hope??????

Opinion: Now or never for AFLW call on international women - part one
Authored by: Cam Homes on Thursday, September 21 2017 @ 02:35 PM ACST

Question: How many American Aussie Rules players were invited to train with the AFL Academy lads in Florida in January?

Question: How many of those American Aussie Rules players that were invited actually trained with the AFL Academy lads in Florida?

Question: How many Irish Gaelic Footballers were invited to train with the AFL Academy lads in Florida?

Question: How many Irish Gaelic Footballers trained with the AFL Academy lads in Florida?

Question: How much did the AFL outlay/need to spend to get the American Aussie Rules players to train with the AFL Academy lads in Florida.

Question: How much did the AFL outlay/need to spend to get the Irish Gaelic Footballers to train with the AFL Academy lads in Florida.

Question: How many of the American Aussie Rules players in question ended up playing Aussie Rules in Australia?

Question: How many of the Irish Gaelic Footballers in question ended up playing Aussie Rules in Australia?

Now to the really important question: How many of the American Aussie Rules players in question went back to play Aussie Rules In America?

And almost as Important and telling question; How many of the Irish Gaelic Footballers players in question went back to play Aussie Rules In Ireland?

Just one more relevant question: How much has the AFL spent collectively on running the combines in the United States (there have been at least two that I know of) and how many players have actually made it onto AFL lists and played a game (I think there have been two, maybe three)

That works out at $????.00c per player. Has to be in the thousands of dollars, if not the tens of thousands. Is that value for money ??????

Yet the AFL seems to baulk at offering a monetary incentive to the AFLW clubs to draft at least one international female player.

Nino Colutta labelled us Aussies a "Weird Mob" I reckon the AFL is in the running for being the weirdest when it comes to promoting and developing Aussie Rules at grass roots level outside Australia.

Opinion: Now or never for AFLW call on international women - part one
Authored by: Harley Vague on Friday, September 22 2017 @ 10:22 AM ACST

Cam, it's quite easy to see the AFL's logic in all of this. The AFL is for the most part interested in acquiring more AFL players. On a cost basis it is much cheaper to run a combine and snatch an athlete from another sport than build a league up to the point where it can produce an AFL player from grassroots.

What's the anwer ? Attacking the AFL add hoc is pointless and actually counter-productive. Until there is a mechanism to voice international football issues in an organized way with the potential to solve problems any energy is dissipated instead of being utilized.

Whilst people are focussed on attacking the AFL many important incidents just aren't reported. I'm the only person who seems to have noticed that the ABC never reported the Swans Vs Essendon final in Sydney. This was a record-breaking game continuing the fairy-tale run and completely embarrassed the NRL's attendance yet is was never reported. Think about that and the implications of football in Sydney. Now we have an ABC article about whether the WAFL "deserves" $10 million from the government. they talk as if it is a handout not compensation for losing a low rent ground like the VFL and Waverley. In gross hypocrisy the ABC promote spending $1.8 on improving empty stadia in Sydney as a good thing. It's widely reported that football aid is very effective yet that remains a political football.

I don't want to tell the AFL how they should run their business but perhaps they could do with some help in some non-core areas.