How to position the #Wleague where it belongs

wleaguefinal

I really wasn’t going to write this post.  The argument of how Association Football is positioned in the sporting landscape has been done to death.  In this blog and also by people much more knowledgeable than myself.

But what prompted me to write this post was this morning’s edition of the ABC’ sport program ‘Offsiders’.

As I have written in this blog before I had to suppress my code wars instincts, and really say that the advent of the Women AFL is great for women’s sport in general. And perhaps think that if you have to invite people on the show you can’t invite a representative from every sport.

However the narrative amongst many football and non football alike is that the Women’s AFL competition has not only overtaken the WLeague in popularity.  A journalist also ventured that it could affect the A-League.

As we football fans are quite hyper sensitive to what we perceive attacks on our code Davutovic copped a lot of flack for that article, especially writing for a newspaper that is perceived to be very pro AFL and anti-football here in Melbourne. But Matildas Melissa Barbieri wrote similar things back in June.

But perhaps the reaction was because it provoked our frustration towards the FFA. A feeling that perhaps they got complacent thinking that summer was football’s patch, and that cricket would lull along with a few tests and one dayers and that we wouldn’t have to worry about footy until March.

But this was foolish in such a competitive sport environment such as Australia.  Cricket wasn’t going to give up its number one summer sport position easily and they hit back with the Big Bash League, while the AFL marketed its women’s competition brilliantly.  And to those in NSW and Queensland who may have been surprised by the success of this competition in Victoria and other Aussie Rules states,  you may not realise how popular aussie rules is among women.  It is no surprise to me that an AFL sponsored competition is such a success.  Writer  Clare Write spoke to the launch of Angela Pippos’ book: Breaking the Mould: Taking a Hammer to Sexism in Sport.  And this passage is telling.

Ange documents many other women who have similarly campaigned — generally quietly, behind the scenes — so that my daughter can not only pull on the guernsey and footy boots like her brother before…..

Thank you for the fact that when I went to the Carlton-Melbourne game at Princes Park last week, I saw a mum say to her young daughter after the match: “You could be a full forward one day, Ella”.

Thank you for the fact that Ella got to sit in a crowd and watch thousands of men and boys, as well as other women and girls, clap and cheer the 32 women slogging it out on the field.

Thank you for the fact that this book will be part of the process of change, so that, as you write, Ella’s “world will be bursting with possibilities” because “stop signs don’t exist there”.

That passage tells a lot why for some of us blokes it seems that the reporting of Women’s AFL feels like they invented women’s sport.

To which Angela replied:

And that’s the nub of the issue.  Many women and young girls  in Victoria and other AFL states love the footy and now they feel that they can play it too and watch other women play it.  This presents a challenge, but it is also an opportunity to give the W-League more prominence.

What can the W-League do? – Differentiation

Go to new markets – expansion in new areas.

When the FFA talks about expansion they talk about going where the fish are, which in the main are capital cities.  That’s understandable because that’s where people live and derbies create interest and TV ratings.

The problem with that is that capital cities is also where other sport mainly operates and the competition is at its fiercest.

Would expansion to regional centres be an answer?  While this argument works for the A-League it is even more relevant for Women’s football.  Let’s take Tasmania.  The AFL has abandoned the idea of placing a team there and as Michael Cockerill has written  this gives a great opportunity for the A League to move into the breach.  But this could be even more for women football.  While the AFLW represent only teams which are in the mainland, imagine a W-League Tasmanian team.  Tasmanian women representing their state in a national competition.  AFLW doesn’t and Super Netball doesn’t.  That would be an opportunity to stand out.  This is already done with Canberra United but I think would get more attention in a state like Tasmania, but also in places like Woolongong for instance.

Highlight W-League as a league of its own….not as a precursor to the men’s

While as I have written before I try to eschew code wars, I recognise that heck, it is a really competitive environment out there.  While us fans can say ‘we like many codes’ or ‘all sports can co-exist’ which is true in our mind, the reality of the market is that resources such as sponsorship money and the best athletes can’t be distributed equally.

A lot of the marketing about the W-League has been that finally the AFL has created an competition for women.  But at this stage is a still a bit of a sideshow before the men competition starts.

This was stated by journalist Georgina Robinson on Offsiders.

So while we talk about equality, the FFA could highlight the fact that the W-League is not a ‘pre-season product’ but a fully fledged separate competition from the men’s.  The FFA should’t be all guns blazing about it, but perhaps mentioning it as a point of difference, especially considering the AFL media has been quite overt in defining the AFLW and a watershed for women’s sport.

Football as the world’s game.

One advantage that football has over other sports and codes in Australia is its international dimension.

I would suspect that only basketball would be on equal terms with football on this aspect.  Netball and cricket are also international sport but the number of countries which are competitive are not as many.

The fact that the Matildas have played so little in Australia is a bit of an indictment.  Not sure with the scheduling etc. but I am sure that a few friendlies in Australia, especially if played in smaller centres would attract attention and if marketed properly would increase the profile of the players and women’s football. The idea of bidding for the 2023 World Cup would be a great start.

It seems that the game is at at a bit of the juncture at the moment.  Expansion, possible promotion relegation down the track, A-League clubs wanting more say.  Let’s bring Women’s football into the mix.  Is too much of an opportunity to miss.

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