OPINION: AFLW Expansion
The AFL Commission have resisted the urge to cash-in on the success of the inaugural AFL Women’s season, opting to retain the eight foundation teams for 2018. The league will instead look to expand the competition in time for the 2019 season.
In a statement released this afternoon, the AFL cited the need for consolidation in the competition’s second year. This consolidation will take the form of further talent identification and development, plus working to build the fan base of all clubs.
From this writer’s perspective, it is encouraging to see the Commission take heed of the AFL Executive’s recommendation for consolidation, despite some serious lobbying from the likes of St Kilda and Geelong. No doubt the temptation was there to build on the rolling juggernaut that is AFLW. However, it’s reassuring that the health of the women’s game has taken priority over business interests.
As a committee member of the Darebin Falcons, I have seen the ‘AFLW effect’ first hand. The influx of new players has seen the club field a third senior team for the first time in its history, plus two brand new junior teams. This is a reflection of what is happening at football clubs right across the country.
It is from this junior, community and state league level that the AFLW competition will grow. If the AFLW expands too quickly, taking the best talent with it, you run the risk of harming the long-term growth and depth of the game. The AFLW came to fruition due to the tireless work at this level by so many women’s football believers and pioneers; this work must continue for the game to thrive.
Programs such as the TAC Cup Girls competition, Women’s State Academies and the new NAB AFL Women’s National Academy are vital building blocks. But also, in the short to medium term, allowing AFLW players to return to their local clubs in some capacity ensures that the state league competitions remain viable. The connection to community in women’s football should be celebrated and preserved because without clubs like the Darebin Falcons, the Coastal Titans, Morphettville Park and Coorparoo, you don’t have AFLW.
I do hope to see a fully professional 18-team AFL Women’s league, but in an age where AFL clubs and supporters are notoriously impatient, my other hope is that each expansion only occurs when the talent and infrastructure is there to support it. AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan referred to women’s football as a revolution; let’s make sure it’s here to stay.
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