Female footballers – welcome to the tribe
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.
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.