Fe­male foot­ballers – wel­come to the tribe

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - News - BY DEAN LAWSON

The AFL’S new women’s com­pe­ti­tion has so far been a rag­ing suc­cess and we look for­ward to the fe­male ver­sion of the in­dige­nous game gain­ing a strong foothold in na­tional sport­ing cul­ture.

It’s been great, and what’s been fas­ci­nat­ing is the over­whelm­ing pub­lic re­sponse to the con­cept.

Big colour­ful sell-out crowds have en­dorsed the idea, prompt­ing some com­men­ta­tors to de­clare that women’s sport had fi­nally man­aged to reach the crest of what had been an un­con­quer­able moun­tain.

But what is it that has al­lowed a women’s com­pe­ti­tion to gen­er­ate such fan­fare?

It would be great if it was sim­ply an ac­cep­tance of elite fe­male ath­letes do­ing well in a male-dom­i­nated sport. It would also be fan­tas­tic if it was purely based on the sheer tal­ent of the com­peti­tors.

Many footy fans were im­pressed with the skills, en­deav­our and fit­ness of the ground-break­ing play­ers and the ex­cite­ment gen­er­ated by the games.

But some foot­ball purists were qui­etly left a lit­tle cold, and in try­ing to ap­pear more prag­matic than sex­ist, claimed fans were be­ing sat­is­fied by medi­ocrity.

They ar­gued, cu­ri­ously and amid con­dem­na­tion from their friends, that fans flock­ing to watch women play foot­ball some­how in­sulted Aus­tralian fe­male ath­letes who had reached the pin­na­cle of other sports with­out such cel­e­bra­tion.

A big call but in­ter­est­ing. The early suc­cess of the AFL women’s com­pe­ti­tion has pro­vided im­por­tant in­sight into the psy­che of many Aus­tralians and per­haps, par­tic­u­larly sports-mad Vic­to­ri­ans.

Is the suc­cess about the sex­u­al­ity of the play­ers? Doesn’t ap­pear so, in fact re­sults of the early games sug­gest we might not be as sex­ist as many would like to be­lieve.

Is it about the qual­ity of the foot­ball and the fit­ness and skills of the play­ers? Per­haps, per­haps not! Is it more about pow­er­ful trib­al­ism and us­ing its in­flu­ence to open the door of in­clu­sion while at the same time es­tab­lish­ing a new av­enue to de­velop a sport? Bingo!

Ask your­self: Would the women’s foot­ball con­cept be work­ing if AFL clubs, com­plete with their mas­sive fol­low­ings, had failed to em­brace the idea? Would the crowds have flocked en masse to the games, re­gard­less of the qual­ity of play­ers, if the teams weren’t part of ‘the tribe’ wear­ing beloved colours? Un­likely.

Pro­found

The play­ers, of course had to know how to play the game well, but it was the adop­tion of the idea by AFL clubs, elite bas­tions of the game, that has had the most pro­found im­pact. It has meant the fe­male com­peti­tors al­ready have a con­sid­er­able fan base to im­press.

As soon as they were part of a club, and seen to be hav­ing a red-hot go, fans em­braced them be­cause they were ‘their’ girls.

At the mo­ment the process has been so suc­cess­ful that fans from large AFL clubs such as Richmond, ab­sent so far from the women’s com­pe­ti­tion, are ask­ing when their club will field a team.

Hitch­ing a ride on our tribal sport­ing cul­ture to make an ide­al­is­tic and ben­e­fi­cial con­cept work has been a mas­ter stroke.

It has al­ready rubbed off in western Vic­to­rian foot­ball with plans for a women’s com­pe­ti­tion in­clud­ing four teams aligned with clubs in Wim­mera league and an­other four with clubs in the Western District.

The truth is, we’ve been align­ing our male and fe­male sport­ing en­deav­ours through tribal ideals for years in the re­gions, per­haps with­out even re­al­is­ing.

Foot­ball and net­ball have long com­bined to form ‘tribes’ across re­gional Vic­to­ria, with a va­ri­ety of other sports also feed­ing off the part­ner­ship.

The truth is these days that foot­ball and net­ball are usu­ally un­able to sur­vive with­out the other.

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