As we enter the final two rounds of the AFLW season for 2018, it is a great time to reflect on how much the women’s competition has done to grow the game amongst fans, and for female sport in Australia in general.
Now in its second season, the AFLW takes women’s football across the country, with eight sides battling it out for the flag. Inaugural sides Adelaide, Brisbane, Carlton, Collingwood, Fremantle, GWS, Melbourne and Western Bulldogs all participated in the first two years, and the competition is now looking to grow even further in the next two.
Both Geelong and North Melbourne will enter the 2019 competition, growing the league to 10 teams, before expanding to 14 teams in 2020 with Gold Coast, Richmond, St Kilda and West Coast preparing to enter the competition.
The first season saw Adelaide crowned Premiers, in front of a crowd of 15,610, an even greater crowd than the round 1 clash between Gold Coast and Brisbane in the men’s competition, on the same weekend at the same venue.
The greatest crowd for the season came in the opening round as Carlton and Collingwood filled Ikon Park to the brink (almost 25,000) with an over-capacity crowd.
So far this season, the Western Bulldogs are absolutely flying, and one more win will secure a Grand Final berth. Brisbane and Melbourne are the other two clubs looking most likely to fight for a spot in the Grand Final, sitting 2nd and 3rd on the ladder respectively.
According to the AFL, participation in the sport grew over 10% in 2017 with the introduction of the AFLW competition, with women making up 30% of the 1.5 million players nationwide. That is an increase of 76% in female teams, all in the first year of the competition. These numbers are sure to only increase further as the women’s competition goes from strength to strength.
The competition’s influence on women’s sport stretches even further than generating initial participation. By providing an elite female platform, it provides players with an ambition to strive for, helping to keep women in sport for longer. With an elite competition providing a motivating factor to aim for, women will be far more inclined to stay in the game and continue playing.
“Its really exciting to think of [young girls] thinking… ‘I can be an AFLW player one day’." 💥 @GWSGIANTS Courtney Gum s redefining what it means to be a woman in sport and inspiring young girls and women along the way ✊ @Atlassian #TheImaginationGap #RoleModel #AFLW #IWD2018 pic.twitter.com/ehCXT7GKdA
— AFL Women's (@aflwomens) March 7, 2018
Women such as Adelaide captain Erin Phillips have been instrumental in this growth and have had an immense effect on women’s sport. Phillips was the standout player of the first season in the AFLW, winning the league’s best and fairest, and the best on ground in her side’s Grand Final win. Stretching beyond the AFL, Phillips is also a two-time WNBA champion, as well as a Silver medalist at the Beijing Olympic Games and Gold medalist at the World Championships whilst competing for Australia’s women’s basketball team, the Opals. Phillips has provided a role model figure, and someone young sportswomen in Australia can look up to and admire. This culminated in Phillips recently being listed in South Australia’s top 5 most influential people.
Melbourne captain Daisy Pearce is also looked up to in a similar light as Phillips, taking her role as an ambassador of the game to the media as well. Pearce is a regular in the media during the men’s competition, appearing on Channel 7’s AFL Game Day regularly, as well as providing special comments for 7, Triple M and this year joining the SEN team. A regular face in the game and on our TV screens, even outside the women’s competition, has provided a constant female idol beyond the field for other young women to again look up to.
The AFL has taken significant steps forward for female sport participation in Australia with the introduction of this league. The competition is sure to continue to grow, both in competitiveness and support, as women across the nation take up the sport, with both an elite platform to aim for, and heroes to admire.