By Kellie Scott
Women’s Aussie Rules is going legit in 2017 and it’s hard to predict how it will stack up against the men’s game.
But that’s not worth pondering according to women involved in the sport, who say it’s time to up the ante and let the men play catch-up instead.
Last month the AFL announced eight clubs would be given licenses to field women’s teams in the inaugural season.
Talk to fans and most are keen to see the new national league in action, but there are critics who claim the girls haven’t got the goods for an exciting game.
Others are concerned about whether it will go the distance.
So we asked those that would know: What does it need to survive?
‘Let’s set our own direction’
Melbourne Football Club women’s football manager and former player Debbie Lee said the national league wasn’t about matching the men’s game, but exceeding it.
“We want to see what the girls can create … let’s not try to make it the men’s game, let’s set our own direction,” Lee told the ABC.
“We have the basis of the male game … but let’s take that and be innovative and take it to the next level.”
She said there was plenty of room for change from how the clubs interacted with fans to what the competition was called.
“Some of our ideals and traditions in male football, it’s not as progressive as it should be … let’s let the men’s game catch up to the women’s game,” Lee said.
“[We need to consider] how to attract a whole wide range of audience from little girls and boys to a new community — that’s a really exciting opportunity for the industry.”
Lee said she believed the game would eventually progress to a full-time job for women, but expectations needed to be managed.
“It will lend itself back to the days when footballers didn’t work full time,” she said.
“In terms of income it will generate, the eyeballs that are going to watch it … we’ve got to have a level head about expectations of what it will generate.”
Show us the money
Brisbane Lions marquee player Tayla Harris said ongoing support from the AFL would be key to the sport’s success.
“The wrong way would be to say here is a chunk of money, try and make it happen,” Harris said.
“There needs to be a continuous contribution from the AFL.”
That’s not going to happen if the fans don’t respond, and there are critics who say the girls aren’t tough enough to create excitement on the field.
But first impressions last, and Harris is planning on making a good one.
“Some people have other opinions … that it is not as tough or as exciting … but our physicality is a lot more than people expect,” she said.
Harris said she was confident loyal AFL fans would tune in to games, proven by the first televised event last year between the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne Demons.