The following article was first published by ESPN.
The first ever AFLW trophy has been hoisted in the air, the confetti cannons fired and the Adelaide Crows team song belted out, bringing to a close a phenomenal chapter in Australia’s sporting history.
While it was far from being the first sporting code to launch a national women’s competition, the AFL achieved something its predecessors never quite managed: female sport was suddenly front and back page news around the country. The impact has been so strong that even those with little interest in the game knew it was happening.
For players coming through from the grassroots level, the immediate impact of season one is obvious; there is now a pathway from which an on-field career in their chosen sport is no longer a pipe dream but more a legitimate work in progress.
Off the field, the wheels are slower to turn. However those in the know say the knock-on effect of the league’s success will see more women given opportunities in all aspects of the game.
In community and media roles, the progress has been perhaps the most apparent.
Chyloe Kurdas has spent most of her life in and around the game working toward this point and while acknowledging there is still some way to go, she recalls her time as Media Manager for the Victorian Women’s Football League in the early 2000s.
‘We used to have to beg to even get scores in the paper,’ Kurdas says.
Now an expert commentator, reporter and columnist – partly with ESPN – covering the AFLW, Kurdas says times have changed.
‘It’s having a regular media presence, opening a paper and expecting to read about the AFLW,’ she says. ‘For me, it’s very much a new world, so far removed from where we were twelve, or even six months ago.’
Kurdas predicts the perception of the league will have far-reaching effects beyond the game itself.
‘This will forever change Australian culture. We have a very gendered society and culture, so when the most powerful sporting organisation in the country acknowledges and treats women equally, it filters down to broader society.’
Sophia Samartzis is Assistant General Manager of Football at the Geelong Cats and a graduate of Deakin’s Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Science. She is one of only a handful of women to hold a senior role at an AFL club.
While she knows that her domain is still largely male-dominated, Samartzis is seeing a turning of the tide.
‘There is now an increased awareness, people are more engaged and wanting to be involved,’ Samartzis says.
‘The exposure is normalising women, not just as athletes, but also working in the industry. When you switch on your television and on match day there are female players, coaches, strength and conditioning experts as well as analysts, medical staff and so on.’
With a background in sports science at Deakin, Samartzis’ first job was in marketing before a move into football.
‘I remember seeing a presentation that talked about the club and the model from a business perspective and decided I really wanted to do a placement,’ she says.
‘I liked the values that were in place and the way diversity was encouraged and expected.’
Being female was never something Samartzis saw as a barrier, while knowing that she makes a contribution valued by her colleagues and is contributing to the success of the club on- and off the field- is motivation enough.
'The exposure is normalising women, not just as athletes, but also working in the industry.'
Assistant General Manager of Football, Geelong Cats
While not yet a part of the AFLW, Geelong is taking the steps to ensure they are included when the competition expands. The club was granted a provisional licence for the AFLW, and they are making progress towards a competition debut after also taking on the licence of the North Geelong Magpies where they are building a development squad which will play in the VFL women’s competition.
Samartzis says the club is fully committed and the involvement is important for the region.
‘We didn’t have huge participation numbers in Geelong which was part of the reason we weren’t successful in our bid,” she says. ‘Now we are creating a demand for participation rather than waiting for that to happen and that has stemmed from the success of the AFLW.’
That move is also creating more opportunities for everyone to work in football, something Samartzis says can only be a positive.
‘For the next generation of women coming through, working in AFL will be a genuine option and even more than that, diversity is being valued, not just for women but for non-athletes as well,’ she says. ‘We’ve gone from needing roles to be filled by men who played the game, to considering applicants who might be able to offer something different.’
There is still a long way to go before parity is achieved in this sphere, and few would understand how hard won these incremental successes have been better than Bec Goddard, coach of the AFLW premiers – Adelaide Crows.
‘I hope it highlights that there is an opportunity,’ Goddard says. ‘There are lots of qualified females out there who haven’t had an opportunity yet. I’ve banged down a lot of doors to get where I am but there are others who might not have that confidence.’
Also a Sergeant with the Australian Federal Police, Goddard’s work ethic is second to none. She has a wealth of experience in AFL as player, scorer, umpire and coach of both men’s and women’s sides.
‘When I start something I like to see it through to the end. I’d love to work in football at the highest level and maybe one day as an assistant coach or even head coach in the AFL. Who knows…?’
For now though the focus is celebrating the AFLW premiership win.
‘However lifting the trophy was never the end goal, we were always about setting up a good culture and being the club of choice in the AFLW,’ she says. ‘Obviously it (the premiership) is the culmination of many years of hard work and personal battles in football that men don’t have. It was quite emotional.’
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