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Don't like AFL Women's on the news? Change the channel

AFLW has been so much more than a token comp, attracting crowds and viewers. (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)
Editor
1st March, 2017
255
3257 Reads

Alright, before I get into really talking, there’s a few quick things that ought to be said. First off – yes, this is a response to yesterday’s piece by Geoff Parkes on AFL Women’s and the media, here on The Roar.

I’ve worked with Geoff a bit over the last year or so and would consider him a friend. Interpreting our disagreeing on this issue as being something of a feud, or a personal attack by myself on him, would be a mistake.

Still, this is an issue on which I feel strongly enough that I must speak my mind in a completely honest way.

Geoff has put forward the view, as I read it, that AFL Women’s should not get the depth of media coverage it currently does because it is not yet up to standard of the other elite sports that receive that coverage.

I’m not going to pretend for a second that semi-professional AFLW is played with the same degree of fitness or skills that the fully professional men’s competition is, and I’m yet to encounter a single person in the conversation who would.

However, to suggest that media coverage on sport should be based solely around the competition standard is a fanciful notion.

For better or worse, media coverage always has been and always will be dictated by popular interest. It’s why we hear about celebrity break-ups, it’s why we hear about Donald Trump, it’s why we hear about where the cheapest petrol is.

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A good standard for evaluating an opinion about women’s sport is to say the same thing about men’s and imagine what kind of reaction you might get.

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Reading Geoff’s piece, I mused to myself that I could very much write an article in the same line of thought about, for example, the A-League, and that I wouldn’t really have to change things around too much.

Why should the media report on AFL Women’s when the standard of other AFL competitions is much higher? By the same token, there’s little reason to give attention to the A-League when it is not even remotely in the same weight division as the Premier League or La Liga.

Geoff points out that scoring in AFL Women’s is pretty low, certainly compared to a full-length men’s AFL game. Yet it seems like just about every A-League game ends in the teams scoring two goals or less, and often none at all. Yawn.

Can you imagine the results if I was to write up that thinkpiece on the A-League and publish it at the top of the front page? It would attract the sort of vitriol and criticism that a take like that deserves, courtesy of the thousands of passionate A-League fans that frequent The Roar.

These matters do not revolve around elite sporting standards or high scoring or any objective measure of one game versus another. As Geoff himself says, sport is not always about rationality. Logic and reason are not what make sport great. Passion is, and it can be found at every level of every game.

The simple fact is that the interest in AFLW is what justifies its media coverage. We get to decide what we value, and enough people have decided that they value AFLW for it to have become a newsworthy subject. That’s really all there is to it.

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Why has this happened? As Geoff intimates, for many of us it’s just because we love AFL, and especially having not had any of it on the telly since September, we are more than happy to get around any form of the game, even if it is a bit new and different.

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I definitely have at least one foot in that camp. If you dressed up a bull in a North Melbourne outfit and let it loose in a china shop, I would buy a ticket and cheer until well past the point where I’ve lost my voice. I’m pretty well rusted-on to this whole thing.

However what is also responsible for much of the interest in AFLW is how much it means to the women of Australia to see this competition happening, and to be getting the level of coverage, investment and promotion that the AFL is for the most part consistently giving it.

This is something that a bloke like myself or Geoff simply cannot really hope to understand. It’s a perspective that can only be achieved through growing up female. As men we have to respect and accept that fact.

I’d say that it’s like seeing someone like yourself do something you’ve always been told you can’t do, but I’m a pretty privileged guy and have been lucky enough to never really have anyone tell me I can’t do things. However, that’s not typically the case for women who want to get involved in footy.

While I’m not in a position to relate to that aspect of AFL Women’s directly, I am lucky enough to have seen many women, from my friends, my family, and even strangers on the street and social media, who are absolutely glowing with passion for a game that I reckon is pretty alright, too.

Getting to see how happy it makes the women I love to have AFL Women’s not just exist but be as celebrated as it is, has made the competition personally very special to me.

That is the beauty of sport, it means so many different things to so many people, it arouses feelings in us that nothing else can. When a sport does that as well as AFLW has for so many of us, media attenion is absolutely justified.

If you don’t feel that way about AFLW, well, that’s a problem with an easy fix. Hey, I don’t feel that way about the vast majority of sports that aren’t AFL! You, like me, have the ability to vote with you remote – if you don’t want to watch the media coverage, you can just turn the TV off.

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One last thing I’d like to address is Geoff’s statement near the end of his piece, suggesting that one of the reasons that some are unwilling to criticise AFLW is to avoid the accusations of sexism and bigotry that often come in response.

I’m not going to say that this backlash doesn’t sometimes happen, and that it isn’t on some occasions a disproportionate response. However, it is laughable to suggest that the crowd is only pretending to go along with AFLW. Believe it or not, the vast majority of us are just genuinely having a great time.

It may seem a bit out of place to say it here, after I have disagreed with Geoff’s point of view so fundamentally, but as someone who puts forward opinions – many of them unpopular – for a living, I do have a level of respect for those willing to do so, knowing that criticism is inevitable.

You don’t have to get involved in AFLW. You don’t have to keep the TV on when it comes up on the news. You don’t have to read my articles about it. I won’t be offended and to be honest, the rest of us will be so busy having fun that you really won’t be missed.

I find that a good rule-of-thumb in life is that if people are having fun, and they’re not hurting anybody, just let it be. As an AFL Women’s fan, that’s all I’m asking for – well, that and the Giants to get their first win on Friday night.