With three seconds remaining on the clock and Brisbane trailing by a solitary goal in the AFLW grand final, Nicole Hilderbrand’s long bomb looked set to land in marquee forward Sabrina Frederick-Traub’s safe pair of hands. Instead, Rhiannon Metcalfe punched the ball clear and Erin Phillips pounced, desperately attempting to clear a congested forward 50. In a last-gasp effort, Frederick-Traub lunged at best-on-ground Phillips, with a tackle that could easily have been rewarded with a holding the ball decision. But it was too late; the siren sounded. The Adelaide Crows became the first AFLW premiers.
It’s not uncommon for a grand final to produce tears but, when the siren finally sounded on season one of AFLW, they fell unlike any other. Lions players were in agony and the Crows elated but there was scarcely a dry eye among a largely neutral crowd on the Gold Coast, either. As the premiership cup was held triumphantly aloft by the coach, Bec Goddard, with co-captains Chelsea Randall and Phillips beaming at her side, the commentator Jason Bennett perfectly summed up what so many were feeling: “For the generations of women in football who refused to take no for an answer, this moment is for you.”
This was not, after all, Adelaide’s moment, nor was the elation just for Crows fans. Sarah Perkins, the woman who was overlooked by every team in her home state only to become a premiership-winning forward, summed this up in her post-match interview. “We [Adelaide] are not the winner,” she said, visibly emotional, “women’s football is the winner.”
And what a glorious victory it was. Bennett was spot on. AFLW was not the invention of the AFL and 2017 was not (by far) the beginning of women’s fight to play Australian rules football on the main stage but it felt like the moment the dam wall finally broke.
How to do justice, in words, to what that meant to so many people? Kirby Fenwick grasped the scale of this task when she embarked on the creation of an audio documentary focusing specifically on the magical game that kickstarted it all between Carlton and Collingwood. Inundated with expressions of interest, she settled on 40 interviews with a diverse range of women. Asked what most stood out about the interview, Fenwick answers: “There was a lot of emotion.
“For some, there were tears … The women I spoke to felt incredibly strongly about the season. Older women in particular, who had never had the opportunity to play, who were told ‘girls don’t play football’. For them, seeing women out on the field was incredibly powerful and very emotional.
“I also spoke to younger women. And it was equally powerful for them but they still have the opportunity to play. They now know they can play and many of them have.”
The season’s success is perhaps most appropriately measured in the numbers of women who have subsequently taken up the game – an influx that has accounted for a massive 76% increase in the number of women’s teams, with 463,364 women and girls nationally playing some form of Australian rules football. Women now make up 30% of the overall participation figures for AFL, after just one season in the limelight. On the back of such figures, there can be no denying that the old adage that you can’t be what you can’t see holds true; that the visible spectacle of women playing the game so many love proved a cliched if literal game-changer.
The NRL, for example, decided late that it had missed the boat, announcing in December an elite national women’s league for 2018, with up to six NRL teams guaranteed franchises. Perhaps even more promisingly, the formerly known Interstate Challenge (played between Queensland and New South Wales) will also be rebranded as State of Origin, giving the women’s game a chance to tap into a venomous rivalry without precedent. The game will also be given the best chance of drawing an optimal crowd, with a dedicated, standalone weekend before men’s Origin II.
These announcements followed another successful Rugby League World Cup title for the Jillaroos, with the 2017 women’s competition televised in full for the first time. In its wake, the NRL revealed to Guardian Australia its own promising figures on women’s participation, with tag and tackle variations up 32% in 2017, and 9,029 new women playing a form of rugby league in Australia. One can only imagine the further growth on the back of visible idols in club and state colours.
It seems no coincidence that Raelene Castle was appointed to the top job of Rugby Australia just a day before the announcement of “Super W”, a national women’s XVs rugby competition to kick off for a six-week season in March 2018. Lauded by its chairman, Cameron Clyne, as commercially savvy, Castle noted in her press conference that “the female market is really hot” and that union is in a “race to be a sport of choice”.
RA has also flagged its intention to bid for the 2021 women’s World Cup, which has never before been held in Australia. Poignantly, Clyne acknowledged that there “never been a more exciting time in the women’s game”. For those who have waited their whole lives to play competitively on the national stage (some too long), the sentiment rings true with a pang.
It would also be remiss to imply the AFLW was Australia’s first national women’s competition. The W-League far preceded the inauguration of AFLW but, for whatever reason, has yet to command public attention in the same way. For the women’s football expert Ann Odong, one issue is that the W-League “has failed to create an environment that is conducive to community building”, perhaps with the exception of Canberra United.
Media coverage, or lack of it, is also to blame, yet the relative lack of interest in the W-League is a conundrum given the Matildas’ status as national darlings after a year of unrivalled highlights. Beginning the year ranked eighth, they finished it fourth – the first time any Australian football side has ranked in the top five internationally. This was on the back of the moment that really had heads turning back home: their triumphant victory in the inaugural Tournament of Nations, which left superpowers USA, Brazil and Japan in their wake.
The Matildas proved this was no fluke with two resultant and resounding friendly victories over Brazil, played in front of unprecedented crowds of 16,829 (an Australian record) and 15,089. Australia’s national team had arrived on the domestic stage, in a way that would prove profound. The domestic competition has the foundations necessary to succeed if it can tap into the enormous goodwill of its growing audience.
Then there are the women who have long been doing it for themselves – our netballers. The traditional stalwart of women’s sport in Australia, netball produced its own innovation in 2017 with the introduction of Super Netball. With blockbuster clubs including Collingwood and Greater Western Sydney signing on, alongside the Melbourne Storm-backed Sunshine Coast Lightning, the competition drew record crowds and attracted new audiences. A crowd of 11,871 attended the Swifts v Firebirds/Giants v Lightning double header, and 43% more viewers tuned into Saturday night Super Netball than they did to ANZ championship fixtures in 2016.
And then, of course, there’s women’s cricket, not to be forgotten, even if it is sometimes described as having failed to capture the nation’s attention in the same way other women’s sport has. A women’s Ashes series held on home soil no doubt went some way towards redressing that, and most games were televised (though the most important match – the Test – was not, and games were initially shown on 9Gem rather than Nine). Nonetheless, the series attracted 4 million viewers overall, with a peak audience of more than 500,000. A total of 29,158 people also attended games that were held in Coffs Harbour and Canberra as often as Sydney or Brisbane.
Although in its infancy, the signs are that the Women’s Big Bash League will prove another turning point. The first weekend of competition attracted a peak audience of 629,000 and an average of 422,500, a 59% increase on season two, while the opening weekend’s average attendance figures were also up 45%. The on-field action most certainly rose to the occasion, with multiple records falling. Ellyse Perry, crowned ICC cricketer of the year, credited the clear improvement in quality to a further 12 months of development for women who were finally able to commit to the game full-time.
Ever a spectre in the women’s game, a vastly improved pay deal paved the way. After memorably dramatic and drawn-out pay negotiations between the Australian Cricketers’ Association and Cricket Australia, a renewed memorandum of understanding saw Australia’s national women’s team rewarded by a 119% pay increase, making them the highest paid national team in any women’s sport in Australia. The Southern Stars received an average 9,000 in salary in 2017 – a 0,000 pay rise. Although Big Bash and state cricketers still have relatively low average wages of ,584 and ,297 respectively, all players, men and women, start with the same base hourly rate of pay.
These cultural shifts are also being felt at the grassroots level, with 393,735 women and girls participating in cricket, a 24.5% increase on last year and 27.5% of all 1.4 million people playing cricket in Australia.
Seen in this light, cricket has arguably led the way for women and girls as the only sport to have gender-equitable principles at the core of remuneration for professional players, although much-belated improvements were also seen for footballers. W-League players likewise benefited from collective bargaining – seeing their average wage double to ,500 a year (to rise to ,400 next year). A maternity leave policy was also developed after lobbying to further encourage women who seek a professional football career.
And, after much conjecture over their initial wage offer of ,000, so-called regulation (non-marquee or tier two) AFLW players received ,500 for nine contract hours for 17 weeks in 2017. After feedback that players spent significantly more than those hours at the club in their first season, they will be contracted for 24 weeks at 15 hours in 2018 but only receive ,500. In other words, the players will be asked to do more contracted work for less hourly pay. Reports that total player payments will increase from ,275,000 to ,752,000 should therefore be read in that light.
As is often the way with women’s sport, progress can be frustratingly slow. The NSW Blues women this year celebrated the announcement that they would be paid for their participation in the Interstate Challenge – for the first time (by comparison, the men’s state representatives receive ,000 a match). And, of the 28 Wallaroos chosen to represent Australia in the World Cup of rugby union, only three were paid professionals with contracts with the women’s rugby sevens program. The other 25 took time off full-time jobs to pay their way. Thankfully, the outgoing RA chief executive, Bill Pulver, said in December that Sevens pay parity, and professionalisation, was an urgent aim.
Until these pay disparities are addressed, women’s sport in Australia is hampered by an impossible conundrum: the perception that the quality is inferior, with very little systematic (financial, material) support in place to allow women to pursue their dreams professionally. (Nor are they socialised to play sport – but that point deserves its own article.)
Australia’s history has too long been littered with women being denied opportunities to take part meaningfully in the games they love. With the triumph of the AFLW, that dam wall has – hopefully, finally – been properly broken. With the advances being paved by cricket in particular, they may finally see the systematic change required to realise anywhere near their full potential.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Police warn about fans’ behaviour in England during World Cup
On day of Sweden match, there were 387 football-related incidents and 70 arrests
Police chiefs have warned against a repeat of the “significant disorder” that accompanied England’s World Cup victory over Sweden, saying there were 387 incidents across the country leading to 70 arrests.
They said the “worrying level of mostly alcohol-related disorder” stretched forces’ resources on Saturday and compared it to the trouble-free celebrations enjoyed by England fans in Russia.
Police accepted it was only a minority of those celebrating England’s 2-0 win in the quarter-final, taking the Three Lions to their first World Cup semi-final since 1990, who were involved.
Among incidents listed by police were:
- Significant damage to an ambulance in London Bridge.
- Two people arrested in Northampton, where “crowds caused disturbances, resulting in road closures while officers dealt with the disorder”.
- A road blocked by hundreds of people and flares set off in a Leicestershire street.
- People clambering on to the roofs of buses and blocking roads in Southampton.
- Celebrations in Nottingham that led to “extensive criminal damage” to a taxi.
- People climbing on to bus shelters and vehicles in Bridlington, Hull and Cleethorpes.
- A man who jumped off a double-decker bus and crashed through a bus shelter roof.
Mark Roberts, the head of football policing for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, which represents 44 forces across England and Wales, said: “Saturday’s match was a great day for England and it’s right to celebrate it. The vast majority of fans do that without committing criminal and antisocial behaviour.
“It is incredibly disheartening to see more than 300 incidents of alcohol-fuelled disorder from a minority of mindless individuals.
“This behaviour has real consequences. Numerous roads across the country were blocked, stopping emergency vehicles getting to people in need, and an ambulance is now off the road while being repaired.
“Shops were damaged, people were abused and assaulted and others climbed on buses and cars, causing damage to vehicles and in some cases, themselves.”
Roberts compared the excellent behaviour by England fans in Russia with those back home. “This is in stark contrast to the fans out in Russia, whose behaviour, apart from a couple of minor incidents, has been great,” he said.
Police resources are stretched because of increased demand, a situation exacerbated by the warm weather and a big mobilisation for Donald Trump’s visit to the UK.
“There is absolutely no excuse for this type of senseless behaviour. Emergency services resources are already stretched,” said Roberts.
“We want people to celebrate and enjoy themselves, but not at the expense of law-abiding fans and emergency services’ resources.”
World Cups and major football tournaments can lead to spikes in some types of criminal offending.
Across England and Wales, there have been 1,086 football-related incidents since the tournament began in mid-June, with 226 domestic abuse-related incidents and 230 arrests.
England play Croatia on Wednesday evening, with police on the alert for any further trouble.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Tardy Rafael Nadal calls for clocks on court after he is timed out
• Spaniard gets time violation before beating Mikhail Kukushkin
• Nadal moves into third round to face teenager Alex De Minaur
Rafael Nadal called for Wimbledon to install countdown clocks on courts after receiving a time violation before the start of his 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Mikhail Kukushkin.
The All England Club is employing the 1-5-1 rule before matches, which allows players one minute to be ready for the pre-contest address, five minutes to warm up and a further one minute to start play. Nadal, who later received another reprimand over his timekeeping before the start of the third set, was cautioned by Carlos Bernades for taking too long to move into position before his first service game on Centre Court. The identity of the umpire gave the incident added spice. Nadal has clashed with Bernades before and asked for the Brazilian to be removed from his matches in 2015. Yet the Spaniard’s chief concern after seeing off a decent challenge from Kukushkin was that there was no way for him to tell he had strayed over the time limit.
“With the five minutes, that’s because we have five minutes and one minute,” the French Open champion said. “I don’t see a watch here. I don’t see that countdown. It’s more difficult for me to understand what’s going on. In Australia and Roland Garros, we have the watch. We can be under control with the watch. Here we can’t.”
Nadal argued Bernades did not have to give him a second violation for delaying Kukushkin’s serve at the start of the third set, although he stopped short of criticising his old adversary. “That’s normal,” Nadal said. “I was slow at that moment. I know I had to take the wristband, T-shirt, banana out, change everything. Probably I should go to the toilet. If I go to the toilet, I had plenty of time to change everything without the time violation. I decided to stay on the chair. I was slow enough to receive a time violation. I think I was very quick during the match. Between sets I needed that time to change all this stuff because it was a very humid day. He could have avoided it, but he decided to make it and I accept it because I was slow.”
Nadal, who is notorious for his reluctance to rush between games, will play Alex De Minaur next after the Australian teenager beat Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-2, 6-7 (8), 7-5, 6-3.
Nick Kyrgios joined De Minaur in the third round after the 15th seed dismissed Robin Hasse in straight sets. Yet hopes that Kyrgios would face another Australian next were dashed after Bernard Tomic lost 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7), 7-5 to Kei Nishikori, the 24th seed.
Juan Martín del Potro, the No 5 seed, dropped only seven games against Spain’s Feliciano López and will play Benoît Paire after the eccentric Frenchman’s 0-6, 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (3) win over Canada’s Denis Shapovalov. Alexander Zverev is in danger of suffering an early exit. The fourth seed trailed the USA’s Taylor Fritz 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (0) before darkness fell over an enthralled Court 1 last night. Fritz, a former US Open junior champion, will hope to press home his advantage when play resumes on Friday.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
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