I’M baffled by outgoing CEO Andrew Demetriou’s comments on how far off the AFL is from meaningfully including women.
Not that I disagree with his assessment, but it’s essentially a report card on his own performance over his 10 years at the helm and seems like it’s a fail.
In his wide-ranging season launch address, Demetriou claimed the AFL was “miles away from where we must be” in including women in senior roles at the league and in clubs.
Only two days after telling the AFL family that he was leaving, he flagged the need for more women to be on the AFL executive and in senior roles in our 18 clubs.
Sorry, you can’t expect to win points from women by saying that on the way out, when there was every opportunity to show that belief while you were there. When it wants to, the AFL gets its way — just ask Essendon and Melbourne — so are we to assume it just didn’t want to? One women on the AFL executive — Dorothy Hisgrove, in that typically “female” portfolio of People, Customer and Community — doesn’t cut it, however capable she is.
Equally capable are Sam Mostyn and Linda Dessau, significant additions to the commission, and Peggy O’Neal taking over the chair at Richmond was a logical and important step.
But in the machine rooms of the clubs, a women has yet to be given the nod.
What’s disappointing is that I believe Demetriou always got the need to embrace women more broadly and had the clout to pay more than lip service to the notion.
Certainly, things have changed in the lower levels of the game and that matters. Women are being brought through coaching paths, Chelsea Roffey was our first female goal umpire in a Grand Final and there are many more running around in suburban games.
One chasm remains and that’s a serious commitment to an affiliated women’s league. Female players are the fastest growth area of the game: 160,000 girls and women now play nationally and they can play through from Auskick to seniors. But that’s where it stops.
Last year’s AFL-branded match between Melbourne and the Bulldogs was a start, and they will do it again this year.
Had some of the men on the commission bothered to attend the first female draft, they would have got a sense of the raw emotion on display as the young women got the call-up and a guernsey rich in heritage.
If they paid close attention to the actual game they would have seen the skills and abilities on display. But some of the most senior AFL men were surprised at the standard — why have they not being paying attention?
None of the women involved expect to attract thousands to their games or to have the following the boys do. But neither do the girls playing cricket and soccer and they get decent financial backing from their national leagues, even small payments for their efforts.
And the only way to continue to raise the barre is to give these talented women a legitimate outlet.
If the AFL is serious about bringing through capable women beyond football, that is where it should start. After all, both Demetriou and commission chair Mike Fitzpatrick played the game at the highest level before combining significant business skills to rise to their current roles. So it stands to reason that is not a bad pathway for women either.
There are signs that the AFL approach to women is changing. This year, thankfully, there won’t be a “women’s round”. It finally understands that women should not be treated as “special” once a year — they are, and want to be, involved as part of every round.
Significantly, it will be the Breast Cancer Network Australia’s Field of Women that will once again send the most powerful message of community.
On May 10, 15,000 women and men will don pink ponchos and stand together in the fight against breast cancer. The perfect Pink Lady they form acknowledges that women can have a different but no less significant voice through football.
Over the years I’ve had countless meetings with well-meaning male executives about setting up women’s groups to get “the girls” involved in footy, often seeing it as a lucrative revenue stream.
But they’re baffled when I tell them women don’t want to be segregated — we just want to be part of it all, at whatever level we choose.
Beverley O’Connor is a Herald Suncolumnist. Twitter @bevvo14