Whoever said Australian football was a man’s game most likely has never watched a game of women’s football.
It only takes a few minutes of watching a Western Australian Women’s Football League training session to change such an opinion, and with high skills, intensity and physicality, it is no wonder the competition is more serious than ever.
Players at the Joondalup Women’s Football Club are excited about this year’s competition, and midfielder Monique Dodgson says the team has high hopes for season 2015.
“The club went very well last season as we made it all the way to the finals but got knocked out for the grand final,” she says.
The excitement of women’s footy is not limited to WA, as AFL Chief Executive Officer Gillon McLachlan recently announced plans to launch a women’s national league as early as 2017.
Dodgson says the proposal is a step in the right direction, and that women bring a lot to the sport.
“Females play differently to males in [Australian football] because as humans we have different builds and have different skills,” she says.
“I think women take it very seriously which is good and we also like to learn more every season.”
Teammate Sian Lucas says the women are grateful to be able to play in a supportive environment, especially considering Australian football is a male-dominated sport.
“I think we appreciate being able to play the game slightly more than males because it’s not a mainstream sport for women,” Lucas says.
“I’d say we tend to look after each other and encourage each other a lot more than males.”
Participation in organised women’s football teams across Australia was up 30 per cent in 2014.
Physiotherapist Sheree Yorke says males and females have different physical strengths, with females generally having higher levels of fitness and males being stronger and faster.
“With regards to endurance, females are more efficient at converting glycogen to energy, so they’re better at running long distances,” Yorke says.
“Men have a higher ratio of muscle to body weight, therefore are faster and can accelerate quicker.
“They also have longer and larger bones, so can generate more power in kicking than females.”
Yorke says females would potentially be stronger in ruck work and moving the ball down the field than males because of their balance.
“Females have a lower centre of gravity, therefore they have better balance than men,” she says.
“They’re also more flexible and therefore more co-ordinated, so would have more range of motion.
“This also means that females are better at completing complex movement tasks.”
West Perth Falcons player Luke Meadows, who played in West Perth’s 2014 Reserves Premiership team, says the plan to bring about a female league is admirable, but would be difficult to generate support.
“I think that females could perform more agile movements, and probably be able to bring a higher level of fitness to football,” he says.
“I like the initiative to start a women’s league but I don’t think it would be very successful.
“I just don’t think that it would get enough interest from the majority of people.”
Sean Gorman, a Curtin University academic who specialises in sport and Australian football, says the proposal to fast track a women’s league could not have come at a better time, especially with the rising popularity of women’s football.
“I have been fairly cognisant of the ways that those women’s competitions have been springing up all over Australia and just how popular they’ve been in that regard,” Dr Gorman says.
“There’s clearly been buy ins from the players, the administrators and other people, which go in to making up clubs, competitions, associations and leagues and all those things you need in order to play.
“I think if you’ve got participation, and you’ve got women participating more broadly around those sorts of things that go into making a football club, then it only bodes well.”
Dr Gorman says the introduction of an all-women league could hopefully shift attitudes regarding the masculinity of the game, and thinks getting women involved in all facets of footy would be beneficial.
“I think for too long of a time football clubs, football administrations and the AFL have very much been a ‘blokey’ boy-like environment and I know that from experience,” he says.
“I think the day we see a senior female coach at a club will be a great day, because that will show that at some point a conversation has been had, and that people are not scared or feeling intimidated in the choice they make to have a female in charge of a bunch of men.
“However it depends how it’s done, and if it’s done as a means to tick a box and all those sorts of things then I think that’s where it will fail, socially and culturally speaking.”
Communication and cultural studies lecturer David Buchbinder from The University of Western Australia also supports the proposal, but queries whether new sponsors will need to be introduced to cater for the women’s teams.
“Issues such as the lucrative business of sponsorship would need to be considered,” says Professor Buchbinder.
“If it turned out that men’s and women’s teams were struggling over the same amount of funding, there could be some nasty rivalry.”
Professor Buchbinder raises concerns regarding the perception of women in the game, and warns that, if not handled correctly, introduction of a women’s league may cause further division and gender inequality.
“It also seems to me that women’s AFL teams and games might act as encouragement to those men who get a thrill out of women being subjected to violence, especially at the hands of other women, ranging from bar-room cat-fights to mud-wrestling,” he says.
“I’m not sure how one could control this aspect of it, especially if matches among women’s teams were to be televised.
“The eroticisation of violence and of the women involved would surely undercut any notion that a women’s AFL team in some sense brought gender equality to the game.”