The AFL's controversial move to make the AFLW a conference style competition has had an angry backlash. KATE O'HALLORAN gives her take on the row...
On Friday last week, the AFL announced the introduction of a seven-week “conference-style” AFLW season in 2019, followed by two weeks of finals.
The proposed structure would see the competition’s 10 teams divided into two separate groups, with teams in group “A” and “B” facing fellow conference teams once (for four games in total), while also playing three “crossover” games against teams from the other conference group.
The winners of each conference would then play the second-placed team from the other conference in a preliminary final, before progressing to the grand final.
In justifying such a radical departure from routine fixturing, the AFL has argued that it was beholden to three key principles: fairness, transparency and flexibility.
On the contrary, however, such a proposal is a guarantee to further the inequity that women and girls experience at all levels of sport in this country. Head office has, moreover, employed multiple bewildering [il]logical arguments to justify a decision made in its own – rather than girls’ and women’s – interests.
The first of these is that the proposed structure is the “fairest” solution to a situation in which teams are unable to play each other once. This claim relies on accepting the premise that a nine-week season (followed by two weeks of finals) wasn’t possible: the model fans and players alike have consistently favoured, with the AFL yet to provide any sufficient justification as to why this model was not adopted.
Having teams play each other once is the easiest and most logical way to ensure an equitable draw, and yet, the AFL has been unwilling to give the AFLW greater share of the Australian sporting calendar, claiming repeatedly its need for “clean air” to succeed in terms of TV viewership and crowds.
Leaving aside for a moment the lack of faith placed in its own product, the AFL can only justify the conference system as “fair” based on its own refusal to provide the obvious, equitable alternative.
That teams will not only play against their own conference teams once but three “crossover” games (against whom is yet to be determined) furthers the absurdity of the claim that their model provides a “fair” fixture.
On Friday, AFLW boss Nicole Livingstone provided further insight into why the AFL will not run a nine-week season.
"Whilst I recognise that players would like to play longer, and some sections of the fan base would like [the season] to go longer as well, we also need to recognise that at the moment, they're part-time athletes,” she said.
"The feedback we get back through the AFLPA and the players themselves is they're also struggling with things like leave at work, managing time off and the period of the competition… a lot of players spoke to me at the end of the eight-week season saying they were absolutely exhausted.”