Roz Kelly: By Comparing Men And Women We're Forgetting The Most Important Thing About Sport
The fourth season of the AFLW started on the weekend... but it turned out the real competition was against the critics.
Female athletes had barely taken centre stage when a chorus of criticism surrounding everything from low scorelines to skill level began ringing. But, as they say, comparison is the thief of joy, and by comparing women to men in the sporting arena... we are forgetting to enjoy the contest.
In sport, it is easy to get hypnotised by statistics. Disposals, possession, percentage, goals, behinds, inside 50s, marks. And of course, the total number of points, which to some people was embarrassingly low in the match when the Giants beat the Suns nine points to eight.
But success shouldn’t be measured by numbers alone.
Sport is about the contest, the tussle, the hunger to win and pride in the jersey.
So if in early 2020, these women are slightly slower, less powerful or accurate than their male counterparts… so what?
Ask yourself if you would be unhappy if a Campbell sister finally wins individual freestyle Olympic gold in Tokyo, but does so two seconds slower than the men? Or would you be disappointed, if say, Ash Barty claimed the Australian Open in an epic three set battle .. but happened to fire down fewer aces than the men’s champion? Of course not.
When it comes to footy, there are however, some worthy comparisons to make. Such as, the AFLW is a professional competition in its infancy. The men’s league has had 123 years to evolve. Top tier AFLW players earn a handsome $29, 856 per season (and that’s a pay rise). Marquee men can pocket a million dollars a year. The women fit training in around full-time jobs. Training is a full-time job for the men.
Former AFL player and 10 daily contributor Brandon Jack likened the AFLW to planting a seed, “you don’t just throw it in the ground and say ‘well where the f**k is it’ when a tree doesn’t sprout up instantly do you? You know it takes time to grow”.
The point is, this is just the beginning of something big. And we must allow for growing pains, especially for a rapidly expanding competition like the AFLW, which may have stretched its talent pool by birthing four new teams in 2020 -- the Saints, Suns, Tigers and Eagles.
But with 14 clubs now competing, the fixtures have also increased from a 38-match, nine-week season to 61 games in 10 weeks -- and this provides significantly more boots on the ground experience for female athletes to hone their craft and be on show for future generations.
Visibility is crucial for the development of women’s sport and the more young girls (and boys for that matter) who are exposed to female athletes in full flight, the sooner it will become part of the psyche. Sport will just be sport. Rather than add an M after AFL for the men's game we should simply call both the men's and women's game AFL, because that's what they're playing.
That’s not to say the AFLW should be immune to criticism, but it should at least be judged on merit.
Over 42,000 fans cheered on the women throughout round one on the weekend, and witnessed moments which will leave a far greater impact than any statistic ever will. The elation on Sabrina Frederick’s face as she kicked herself into the history books with Richmond’s first ever AFLW goal in the season opener against Carlton. Demons captain Daisy Pearce’s triumphant return to the game after the birth of twins. The electric atmosphere of a lockout crowd at St Kilda’s spiritual home Moorabbin as they took on the Bulldogs.
The women running out onto the field today are in a way at the coalface. The likes of Tayla Harris, Daisy Pearce and Erin Phillips are wearing the hard knocks and unfair criticism so young girls can have relatable role models to aspire to. To model their game off. A reason to dream. And in a few short years, this current Auskick generation will grow up and the depth of talent and standard in the competition will skyrocket.
Whether you like it or not, women’s sport is a permanent fixture now. And the players are only going to get stronger. So sit back and enjoy the game.