The AFLW has taken Australia by storm in 2017 and ushered in a new era for football, culminating in last Saturday’s Grand Final between the Brisbane Lions and Adelaide. With sell-out opening round matches and venue changes to accommodate eager supporters, the competition has been as successful as the AFL could have hoped.
Despite controversy over pay disputes before the season even began, resulting in a pay increase for female players, the AFLW has already reshaped women’s sport in this country. Elite athletes plying their trade in the WNBL, W-League and numerous other professional competitions, have been lured to the finely tuned AFL machine, turning their backs on years of commitment to one sport in favour of Australia’s most marketable game.
Yet the question remains — will women ever be able to make a living solely from playing football like their male counterparts? It’s a discussion worth having, particularly in a social landscape where the pay gap between men and women is often a significant talking point. Financial equality in the Australian workforce is still far from a reality, with full-time men earning $1,602 compared with $1,325 for a full-time woman. That’s a difference of $277 per week, a gender pay gap of 17.3 per cent.
In football, there are various factors to take into consideration. For one, the league is barely one season old and in a bid to encourage attendance, people could attend the majority of matches for free. Contrast this with the AFL, which as of last year, had generated $506 million in revenue.
AFL Victoria Women’s Football Academy product and Diamond Creek recruit Jacqui Graham believes it is too early for women to be quitting their day jobs.
“In the next five to 10 years, I can’t imagine women being able to have a full income from AFLW,” she said. “Once the skill level is at a standard that the majority of football fans want to watch, more sponsorship will come and thus more money.”
However, that’s not to say the game won’t become more popular in the same period.
“The next few years I imagine will see many girls taking up football and the future of women’s footy will have a skill level more people will find appealing.”
This is a perception shared by Collingwood midfielder Lauren Tesoriero.
“One of the major changes in the last 12 months is pretty simple; girls can now play football at the highest level,” said Tesoriero.
“Numbers at junior clubs will only increase for females now that they have something to aim for.”
The fact that AFLW players all work or study lends a narrative to the competition, with the diversity of occupations making for interesting reading. The Fremantle Dockers’ side alone contains several players from typically male-centric fields including Tayla Bresland (apprentice cabinet maker), Taylah Angel (concreter), Ebony Antonio (apprentice electrician) and Kirby Bentley (FIFO shotfirer).
However, the West Australian outfit seems to have a penchant for sports science and human movement, with 11 players falling roughly under this category. Belinda Smith and Hayley Miller are both studying physiotherapy, while Stacey Barr is completing a Bachelor of Exercise Science and Health.
Tesoriero isn’t surprised.
“I think there is a correlation between girls playing AFLW and studying those kinds of professions,” she said.
“Football isn’t a full-time career for most girls, so they need to work and study, and I think most female athletes have a genuine interest in the sport science area.”
Yet in her own circles, Graham says there is another occupation that is more common than most.
“I have found the majority of girls seem to be teachers,” she said. “It may be that the schedule for teachers is a lot more manageable to play football than other jobs, but I haven’t noticed that many studying health sciences.”
There is something to that. AFLW players do not have the luxury of a full-time income from the sport and therefore must balance it with work or study, just like local players do. As a full-time paramedic based in rural Victoria, Graham herself has found this to be a tough ask already.
“Balancing work on a rotating four-day roster and footy has been extremely difficult. Fortunately, I am able to ‘timebank’ shifts, which essentially means work an extra shift on days off to have time in lieu to take off for academy trainings and practice matches,” said Graham.
“Once the season starts, I imagine it will be a bit more difficult and I can’t imagine being able to play every game and train twice a week.”
The question of whether AFLW players are paid adequately or whether the competition needs to generate more revenue first before changes are made is an interesting one, as is the query about whether women will ever be able to play football as a full-time career.
However, one thing that cannot be disputed is that the inaugural AFLW season has been an absolute success.
Patrick Evans is a Content Writer for Good Education Media, an avid footy fan and plays football for his hometown club of Yea. Learn more about Patrick.