AFL women’s league success prompts expansion talk

March 2, 2017
Carlton play Collingwood in front of 24,000 fans at Ikon Park on February 3.

Of course, die-hard misogynist and self-confessed Donald Trump fan Sam Newman was hostile to the AFL Women’s (AFLW) league infamously calling it “unbelievably stupid and ridiculous” on Channel Nine’s The Footy Show.

It turns out plenty think otherwise.

The first ever match in the eight-team competition, held on February 3, featured crowds turned away from the 24,000 capacity Ikon Park in Melbourne to watch Carlton thump Collingwood. The response was clearly far greater than expected — the stadium sold out of beer.

Over half way through the initial season, the crowds and interest has remained strong enough for the AFL to reconsider plans on whether to expand the competition. AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said there was pressure for expansion from the 10 AFL clubs currently without licences to field a women’s team.

The Roar said on March 1: “For now, the league is sticking to the original plan that the AFLW should stay at eight teams until 2019 at the earliest. But McLachlan is no longer adamant that will be the case.”

The AFL chief told the press club that day: “I’ve had feedback that people would like to reconsider that [plan] ... all our clubs are desperate to get a W licence.”

Although it has taken the AFL until 2017 to launch a women’s competition, women playing Australian Rules football is far from new.

In Play On! The Hidden History of Women’s Australian Rules Football, published last year, Brunette Lenkic and Rob Hess wrote that women’s determination to play the game in the face of hostility goes back more than 100 years.

They say it was “resilience in the face of indifference, ridicule, hostility and limited support” that has won women their right to play the game.

On The Footy Show, Newman continues bashing away with sexist drivel. In one of his frequent misogynistic outbursts, on one episode last year he told co-host Rebecca Maddern to “come get on your knees”.

It is a safe bet that, when the show returns this year, viewers expect to be treated to the full expression of his considered views on the AFLW, a competition that the February 24 Herald Sun reported he admitted he didn’t watch.

But despite Newman and his sexist supporters, the women’s game advances in leaps and bounds — enjoying strong support from fans.

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