As one of the 24,500 fans that packed into the AFLW’s opening match at Ikon Park on Friday, February 3, I was privy to the comments of spectators around me.
While most were overwhelmingly positive – concerning the bursting crowd, the dogged determination of the players, and some spectacular grabs – a few carried a more negative undertone.
“Gee, the skill level isn’t that great,” one man seated beside his four mates exclaimed. “Hardly like the men.”
I felt my face twist in frustration.
Of course it’s nothing like the men. Want to know why, middle-aged man dressed in a Collingwood scarf? Because some of these women only picked up a footy for the first time three months ago.
Perhaps that’s why I felt similarly irked when Australian netballer Natalie Medhurst admitted to News.com.au that “The standard (of the AFLW) is being questioned”.
“The standard at which we play at, the professionalism and the skills of the players are second to none. That’s one thing I don’t think the women’s AFL has yet. That’s going to take time,” she said.
Later in the interview, Medhurst went on to say: “An off-season is non-existent (for netballers). Because you’re an athlete, you stay fit 12 months a year,” the 33-year-old captain of West Coast Fever said. “They (AFL players) only have nine contact hours a week and then you can say, ‘Well, how many things are they doing when they’re not being watched?’
“Whereas you ask all the netballers and their dedication, their commitment to being in the best condition possible to play and perform day in day out is second to none.
Admittedly, Natalie Medhurst is not entirely wrong. Of course the skill level of the AFLW players does not meet that of our top netballers – how could it? These women have been given very few (if any) avenues to participate in the sport they love since they left Auskick.
Once they embarked upon their teenage years they were turned away. They were bluntly told to pick up another sport; there was nothing for them in footy. I would argue it’s very difficult to prove your “dedication” and “commitment” in that position.