I have a confession to make. I don’t really like Aussie Rules. For an Australian, that’s almost a cardinal sin. It’s a game invented here in the 1850s and it’s a part of the national psyche as kangaroos and Vegemite.
That didn’t stop me from going along to my first game a few years ago. It was Sydney University and the Balmain Dockers in the grand final of the Sydney women’s competition. It was grassroots, it was raw and a hell of a lot of fun.
To my surprise, despite not knowing what was going on, I bloody loved it. These chicks are bass ass. If you know Aussie Rules at all, you know it’s basically an insane sport and not for the feint of heart. I can’t say I was hooked but I was impressed.
Fast forward to today and we’re all a bit excited down under because in 2017, the Australian Football League (AFL), the national body and the (men’s) premier league will be launching a new national women’s competition.
Women across 8 teams linked with the men’s clubs will now have the opportunity to play in those hallowed stadiums that women have been shut out of for so long.
Make no mistake, this is a game changer, not just in sport. Lauren Arnell, Carlton Football Club marquee signing said:
It’s another opportunity for the AFL to drive social change through gender equality
But. And there is always a but! The women are being paid peanuts. You’re not shocked, I know, it’s a common refrain when we’re talking women in sport but hear me out.
I’m not advocating for as much money as the men. The average AFL player gets $302,104 for a 22 week season. That’s $13,732 a week. That’s a lot of peanuts.
Even a rookie who gets no game time at all will bring home $2595 a week.
The majority of women’s players will take home $5000 for the 8 weeks. $525/week. This is barely above Australia’s minimum wage and that’s only because they’re limited to 14 hours a week of training and game time with their clubs.
This wage doesn’t actually include pre-season, the players commit to that for no pay.
In order to make rent and you know, basically live a life, these players will need to hold down second jobs. If they can convince their employers for some time off that is.
Alright, sure, they’re getting a bit of pocket money for playing the game they love in a brand new shiny league. But what if they get injured? That’s the real kicker.
These women will need to hold down jobs while playing. If they get injured, what then? The AFL has a responsibility to #ProtectThePlayers
— Danielle Warby (@DanielleWarby) August 30, 2016
I could almost forgive the low wages if the AFL covered the players’ insurance. But no, they have to pay for that out of their own pocket. Which could amount to ½ their playing wage.
Aussie Rules has the highest rates of hospitalisation for injury of any sport in Australia. On top of that, women are 4 to 6 times more likely to rupture their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) than men, particularly in a sport like this.
An ACL tear or rupture is a major injury. The standard time out for a female athlete here is 12 months. Yeah, you can come back sooner but only if you have full club support and access to facilities and wage protection insurance to see you through this time. And yes, the men get up to $2115 a week to protect loss of income from work undertaken outside of football.
Statistically, we’re sadly going to see a lot of these injuries in the women’s league. And that’s without considering more minor hurts.
Who is looking after these players when they have to take time out to recover?
Ok, so this isn’t like the USWNT wage case (which is an open and shut case of discrimination if you ask me) where it’s an established team bringing in millions for their federation who are basically being shafted. This is a new league. I get it. The women need to earn their way. Sure, sure but consider this.
The AFL invested over $100million on developing the men’s game between 2007 and 2014 with $70million for the setup of two new clubs, the GWS Giants and Gold Coast Suns. Players were paid in the vicinity of the figures above for 3 whole years before the team even played one game in the national competition. That’s one mighty investment! One the AFL felt it needed to make to insure the new clubs were competitive.
So, the AFL do recognise you need to put in money to make for a good contest. The ‘see how they go’ mentality and ‘the women have to earn it’, ‘it’s a journey’ rhetoric is potentially setting the league up for failure and ignores the fact that without solid investment, you’re not likely to reap solid rewards.
The quality of the women’s game will no doubt be good but imagine just how much better it would be with full support for the league’s real stars, the athletes. As it is, no pre-season pay, part-time training and pocket change does women’s AFL a disservice.
Also, consider all the cheerleading from the media the AFL are getting out of this new league. As they should, it’s a fantastic step in the right direction. But, they also have a ‘gender problem’ (as, sadly, do most of the big sports in Australia, that’s a whole other article) and this is giving them some much needed positive public relations. Not to mention taking the game to a new level and to new audiences.
Surely, the return on investment on that alone is worth fair compensation and insurance for the AFL’s newest ambassadors?
An edited version of this article also appeared on Mashable.
— Mashable (@mashable) September 4, 2016