In 2017 when it was announced by the AFL that the Richmond Tigers would be granted an AFLW licence to enter the competition in 2020, CEO Brendon Gale said the following:
“It is fantastic news for the club, our members and supporters and all our stakeholders. We were disappointed that we were not part of the inaugural AFLW season, but we have continued to work hard to promote female football and support participation pathways.”
However, with the announcement by Richmond on Monday that they will not be fielding a VFL team in 2021, this statement by Gale seems nothing more than a lie.
Despite rumours circulating last week that Richmond had made this decision, it took until Monday for Richmond to release a brief statement making the announcement and then “reassuring” fans that Richmond will “focus [its] resources and energies on delivering a high-quality AFLW program in 2021 and beyond.”
But how are Richmond going to deliver this high-quality program without a VFL team?
Let’s be real. Richmond underperformed in the AFLW this year. There was widespread shock among fans when the team finished last in Conference A.
How will Richmond improve performance without a VFL team, especially when moves are being made by the AFL to align the VFL season with the AFLW season, partly to create a functioning pathway?
Richmond’s solution may be to partner with another VFL club for the season.
Perhaps change the word ‘partner’ with to ‘use’. What this says to me is that Richmond would prefer a community club do the work and pay for the work that they should be doing themselves.
It’s even more damning when you consider that in 2018, the VFL season was reduced to 12 teams after Diamond Creed, the Eastern Devils and St Kilda Sharks opted out of playing because the costs of competing in the competition were too high, largely because of the desire to “professionalise” the competition.
Costs became too high and AFLW teams like Richmond grabbed licenses and claimed that they had a deep commitment to women’s footy.
You know who had a deep commitment to women’s footy – those clubs that created a sense of community around women’s football. And this was all destroyed in one foul sweep. These clubs ran on a community with many women running trivia nights and sausage sizzles just to keep the clubs alive.
Good to know that Richmond is willing to take advantage of this work while boasting about its 100,000 members.
Speaking of those members, what about the members of its women’s team? Where is the money these members have contributed going? Because it doesn’t seem to be going to women’s footy. Interestingly, Richmond also have one of the most expensive AFLW memberships going around.
Don’t get me wrong. The impacts of COVID-19 have been felt by every single sport. We have seen people lose their jobs, their livelihoods, programs cut and tough decisions made about sport.
But it makes my blood boil that Richmond would use this pandemic as an excuse to make such a fundamental cut to its football department.
Richmond is known as one of the richer AFL clubs. In fact, the club posted a tweet this week celebrating its 100,000 members.
The club had no problem flying Tom Lynch into the Gold Coast so he could be in the hub prior to curfew.
I wonder what costs more? The investment made into the AFL hub or the cost of a team competing in the VFL?
If I were a member, I know how I would prefer my money to be spent.
It also baffles me that Richmond have made this decision now. Given global uncertainty, we have no idea what the world will look like and whether footy will even take place next year. No other club has signalled an intention to cut their VFL team, which speaks volumes, given that some of the other AFL clubs are not in as a financially strong position as Richmond.
Make no mistake – this is a cut to the football department and it makes a clear statement. Women’s footy is expendable and men’s football is not.
Richmond cried the loudest when they were unable to participate in the inaugural AFLW season. We have a huge fan-base, they said. We are invested in women’s footy, they said.
This decision is an absolute slap in the face to every single person who has supported women’s footy, paid money to support women’s footy and believed that Richmond backed it too.
But mostly, I feel for the players, who once again have to stand behind their male counterparts waiting to be seen, heard and given the proper opportunities to thrive in women’s football.
The AFL are bold enough to claim that they have led the revolution in women’s sport, but when clubs behave as Richmond has in this circumstance, how true is that bold, bold claim?