A response to Mark Robinson’s piece on AFLW in Saturday’s Herald Sun

 

by Yvette Wroby

 

In response to…

 

Mark Robinson’s article:

 

https://www.heraldsun.com.au/sport/afl/expert-opinion/mark-robinson/over-promoting-the-aflw-has-created-the-problems-we-see-now/news-story/8a5653becd75b204f9487d70e5a9e1f3

 

“Over-promoting the AFLW has created the problems we see now”

 

(Note to readers: all italics are words from Mark Robinson’s article in today’s HeraldSun.)

 

Hi Mark Robinson,

 

Here is one woman’s reaction to your article and some of the issues you raised.

 

CAN we have a discussion about women’s footy, the positives and negatives, without being accused of being misogynist, sexist or dismissive?

 

Happy to have a discussion, both positive and negative, so I will ignore what feels provocative to me personally about your opening statement.

 

The goodwill produced two years ago, when the AFLW competition burst on to the football calendar and into the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of girls and young women, is under siege from multiple angles.

 

The goodwill developed with the beginning of the AFLW isn’t under siege. The AFLW series or organisation is under siege is from multiple angles AFL, AFLW administration, players of all ages, current players and past players of AFL and VWFL (now the VFLW) (and other state leagues?), and let’s not forget the FANS. Fans and players loved the beginning of the competition, but how it is run, managed, financed etc is up for criticism.

There was excitement and a feeling of finally being seen for the players, and finally seeing people who represented myself (at a younger age and footy nous, of course) in the players. It was a statement the AFL made that girls and women could be heroes, could play the game I love, could be seen and heard and considered worthy, of the attention.

 

It was over-hyped from the start, arguably underfunded, the product was poor and the AFL is largely to blame because it bit off more than it could chew.

 

Of course it was over-hyped!  It was new and shiny as far as the AFL was concerned. It wasn’t new to fans of women’s footy, who loved to watch the women in the VWFL and interstate leagues for the organised footy for women over the last 40 years. As we know, women have tried many times over 100 years to get into the footy space. Thank goodness for ‘charity’ being an acceptable reason for women to play the game they do. In a way, even the current structure of AFLW feels like again we are playing for charity, but the charity is women’s footy.

 

It was definitely under-funded. (So why not charge $5 every entry and help with that…fans will pay.)

 

I don’t agree that the product was poor.  It is what it is. The framing of it as being a product is also problematic, though I understand it and it makes sense in the world of AFL and media. It is women playing footy at the skill level they are currently at. The games got better as each season progressed, as women had more game time and more coaching. It was better in the second season than the first.

 

The moment the AFL broadcast the Women’s exhibition matches between Western Bulldogs and Melbourne, fans of footy were in love. It changed our psyche. It seemed such a surprise to me and others who love to watch the game that it did help the AFL across the line to bring the AFLW in earlier.  People watched.  People loved seeing the best of the best from our state, and in State of Origin games that were played after the first few years.

 

Perhaps had we had the discussion THEN about how to bring this in with the best of the best until new talent came through, we would be in a different space and in different discussions. But the goodwill and joy was a celebration of footy for ALL. What was needed at this point, at the goodwill and joy point, was that the AFL consult with the leaders in women’s footy in each state and have a sit down to make this happen in an inclusive and sensible way. It didn’t. How many long serving women of huge football experience, organisation or history were bought into the AFL in paid positions to build a department to deal with such a revolutionary thing as the other half of the population getting the same opportunities?

 

Now the AFL wants restraint and the players want progression.

 

It is a mess. Spotfires are now bushfires.

 

Messes and spot fires are nothing but opportunities to do it better. If the AFL feels we need restraint (can I urge restraint on the insult that was AFLX being bought in at a time the women’s game was in it’s second year of competition?) then call people together to work out how to restrain and how to progress.  Where has all the goodwill gone? Are we not able to deal with these issues as they need be (and perhaps there would be working through issues if a proper women’s footy department was a part of the AFL in the way that various Clubs are building them into their administration).

 

Just 2½ years after that glorious night in Carlton to launch the women’s game, the AFL is being accused of insulting the players and running a “mickey mouse’’ and “gimmicky’’ competition.

 

This is not a “be grateful’’ moment, but the lashing by the players of the AFL is over the top.

 

Hey Mark, it isn’t just the players that have responded in the last few weeks.  Fans and supporters of the game are upset too. Just as we settle in to think of another good season ahead, and watch our VFL Women’s games to see who might be drafted; as we take out memberships to future clubs who join in 2019 and 2020, as we supporters of women’s footy are getting into it, we have the AFL floating ideas to journalists to feel the temperature of reducing the rounds.

 

We are not ‘lashing out’, we’re speaking up. Because it isn’t just this one moment, but many moments of diminishing that women (and all fans) are reacting to.  It felt a diminishment of the women’s game with AFLX was trialled in the middle of the AFLW season.  It felt a diminishment when no full-time coaching role could be offered to a Premiership winning AFLW coach, and that another walked away. That roles can be found full time for men coaching women, but not for women coaching women.

 

It was a diminishment when tickets aren’t sold to opening games and Grand Final so fans can have certainty in getting in, and therefore stay away because of uncertainty.

 

It’s a diminishment when an AFL practice match gets proper lighting after a complaint about poor lighting at Ikon Park and women, who I am sure complained, kept playing night games in poor conditions for their league games (and there was no money in the AFLW budget for better lights and it couldn’t be seen fit to borrow for the general pool for this, as they must have for the men’s practice match).

 

The players are lashing out because it’s not just the length of the season but all of the other concerns they have, all the other parts of a complex puzzle that need to be dealt with, by people with experience in footy.  Help is needed AFL, just go get some of the super organisers that have kept the women’s game to this point to be even able to have these players.

 

And don’t start me on the diminishment of taking out all the names of great women players out of the W awards. The players and fans are up in arms because there are so many moments of disrespect that this shortening of the season one felt like the last straw.

 

Wise people say the league made big mistakes from the start. It opened with an eight-team competition when there wasn’t enough talent and soon enough other clubs wanted in for fear of missing the wave and missing the money.

 

Two more teams are arriving in 2019 and four more in 2020.

 

Over and over I hear supporters say that they would get behind the women’s competition when their own teams had a women’s AFLW licence.  Look at North Melbourne and Geelong this year.  They are selling memberships and dreams to their whole community. The Saints (and I am sure other clubs) are building their women’s departments, VFLW sides and memberships.

 

It’s a chicken and egg situation.  The more games you play, the more you will improve. Whether the AFL should have waited for the next generation or not, it didn’t.  It was brave and made a statement. Now let’s stick with the underlying strength behind that statement. There is an appetite for women’s footy. Find out how best to feed it, grow it and crowds will come.

 

All games were televised, which exposed the game too quickly.

 

Maybe, maybe not. The exposure helped get the next generations of footy players on board.  It wasn’t exposed too quickly to fans who were finally about to see a reflection of themselves, their sisters, partners, daughters, mothers out there on the field.  It isn’t the fan who is braying for the blood of the footballers, complaining about skills. The fans understand that development takes time.

 

With change, there often comes a reaction. The constant harping about the lack of skills could be equally made of the bottom 6 teams in the AFL Men’s competition this year. Talk to any Saints supporter. They’ll give you a lecture on lack of skills in their full-time players repertoire.

 

They marketed too hard and created personalities and expectation when the lack of talent was soon obvious.

 

“…lack of talent was soon obvious…” I covered this above. The talent is what it is and is improving. And people improve without the constant glare and attack that women’s footy has endured. I love the personalities.  I love the expectation.  I love watching the talent get better game by game. I love hearing the women’s voices, seeing their faces in the media, seeing them be exposed.  We have gotten to know some amazing stories meeting these AFLW footballers. Why shouldn’t we have personalities.  Daisy Pearce is brilliant on radio and TV, as is Lauren Arnell and all others involved. I love the growth of radio and TV programs with female voices and faces and thoughts and opinions.

 

In reality it was an exhibition tournament, not a football competition.

 

Just plain rude Mark. It is a football competition played for real by players, and supported for real by fans.

 

“They sold it too hard,’’ one club official said.
“I understand you have to create heroes, but you can’t put them on a pedestal so high without any body of work … it just doesn’t make sense.’’

 

Actually, most of these women had a body of work in footy or other sports. They were heroes before they even hit the first AFLW games. It wasn’t actually sold hard enough for what it was. The beginning of a league of women.

 

Dreams were built and believed and now they are shattered, the players say.

 

The messy fight centres on the players wanting to play nine home-and-away rounds and two weeks of finals next year and the AFL initially wanting six rounds and two weeks of finals. It will likely end up at seven.

 

The dreams are only shattered if the game is reduced and treated like a minor competition. Of course the footballers want to play more football. That’s what any footy player wants.

 

Finding a window in which to compete that satisfies all parties in terms of commercial reality (it costs $10 million-plus to run the competition) and a fair competition (play each other once) is proving elusive and divisive.

 

$10 million is chicken feed compared to what the AFL spent on AFLX and expansion teams in Gold Coast and GWS. Why are we speaking of the cost of the AFLW as if it’s something unreasonable?

 

BrisLions_AFLfans tweeted this today:

 

I don’t get all this drama about supporting the AFLW. Women have supported the AFL for years! They’ve driven their sons to footy practice, stood on the sidelines cheered and cried for them. Helped run the local canteen and fundraisers.  They’ve supported our brothers, fathers and husbands while they play.  We’ve put money into memberships, merchandise, tv subscriptions and helped fill stadiums. We also buy the products that the sponsors make so why can’t AFLW be supported from our money too? Why can’t our daughters look out and see ‘hey, one day I could be an elite sports woman with the same opportunities as my brother?’ I seriously don’t get it and it breaks my footy loving heart and takes my enjoyment away from my AFL/W.

 

The AFLW standard is only average. It’s played in slow motion on full-sized grounds with 16 players a side. Skills are poor. Fitness is improving, scoring is low — which upsets the main broadcaster — and most of half of the population won’t give it a second thought.

 

The AFLW players want 18 a side. Their skills are building. Scoring is also low because they play for less time. The broadcasters and AFL are dealing with improving the game generally, why can’t that go for the AFLW too? Are we playing footy just for the broadcasters now?

 

And about that half a population that doesn’t care? The women’s population support the blokes, is it too much to ask for a little support and respect back.  Again, the tweet above says it all.

 

I watch it. I like the contest, the close games, the moments of brilliance and the players I’ve met. As a product, it’s quaint, perhaps suburban in essence, which is a good thing.

 

This starts like a positive and ends with a reduction. The problem comes when we treat footy like a product. I like the essence, suburban or not.  It will grow, if treated right.

 

But the product is out of whack in regards to performance and its coverage.

 

‘Product’ is the problem, but why shouldn’t we trust that performance will develop as a product has time. Sell it for what it is. A development in women’s footy.  A league not to be compared with the men’s. A league of women.

 

The players like to call themselves elite, professional part-timers — and, yes, they sacrifice plenty to play — but with that has come a sense of entitlement.

 

This is just plain rude.  Women are entitled to expect more after what little they’ve received in support, money, organisation and recognition. Are women never to feel entitled? Is it such an insult that women footballers feel entitled to the same support and benefits their brothers get?

 

That comes partly on the back of the AFL’s initial enthusiasm. Players were treated like rock stars.

 

Some were recruited from other sports. They were told they were the pioneers and their dreams would be real and realised. There were TV appearances, radio and newspaper interviews and media gigs.

 

“The AFL created this beast,’’ another club official said.

 

The players were treated as rock stars because to many they are.  They are women playing the game we love and are pioneers for the long haul.  They are deserved on all the coverage and recognition that they can get.  Every woman hailed as a footballer brings in future footballers.  These women visit junior clubs, they are the faces and footballers that young girls (and boys) dream to be. They are magnificent.

 

The women’s game all the way to the grassroots is thriving. There are talent pathways and investment has improved facilities at numerous footy grounds. This year there are 500,000 females playing the game.

 

In many respects, the AFL has done a brilliant job.

 

So let’s build on the brilliance because that 500,000 are coming.

 

Yet, the players are angry with the AFL for what they say is a lack of planning and support for expansion.

 

Fox Sports’ Anna Harrington wrote on Thursday: “Unfortunately, its ambition to take over the female sporting landscape appears to be at odds with its willingness to back in its own product.’’

 

It is a fact that there is lack of support and planning. There is no women’s department at the AFL, nothing structured in even as it grows. The Competition Committee is at least a start, it’s the AFL listening to women who play and who have played in the past. Women who ran the VWFL over the years.

 

There’s the battleground. The players want an 11-week season. That means possibly starting in early January up against tennis, Big Bash and Test cricket, and the A-League.

 

There’s a suggestion to play the grand final as a curtain-raiser to Carlton-Richmond in Round 1 of the men’s competition and work back from there.

 

But the AFL wants it to stay an early February to mid-March event.

 

The TV component is intriguing.

 

The women footballers aren’t the ones tying the AFLW to the summer months.  A season parallel to the men’s season would be brilliant in the future, with women’s football being treated as the winters sport that it is.

 

And skills will improve when women don’t play a winter sport in the very heart of summer as the AFL plans to continue.  The players will take the summer months, but the outcry comes from even trying to squeeze that to nothingness.

 

There is no deal in place yet with Fox Footy or Channel 7. There will be a deal, but just how many games will be televised is the issue.

Do the networks really want more games when viewing numbers, outside of the first two rounds of season one, have been only modest and they have to pay production costs?

Maybe it’s two games a weekend and the rest streamed online, but would the players sacrifice television for more games?

“I reckon if you ask the players, they’d prefer to play nine games and have two or three on telly on the weekend as opposed to having every game broadcast with seven games,’’ one club official said.

 

I record all the AFLW games and watch them all.  If I could only get them on my computer, that would do too. I try and get to as many as possible, but sometimes it’s hard on those HOT SUMMER scorchers, to be without shade and facilities to watch a game. I’d be happy with radio and podcasts too, just to keep up with the games.

 

Another disagreed.

 

“I think the players want to be on TV. They want it because they’re getting some spotlight and they love it and they want more games to have the spotlight longer. That said, the players would be better by playing more football and that’s where the AFL is shooting themselves in the foot. They want the product better, but they are reducing the number of games.’’

 

Again, is it about the spotlight for the individual players or the fact that they are being SEEN as footballers. There is a difference.  One way of describing it is insulting, the other is about visibility and recognition.

 

Another proposal is to play all nine rounds in the AFL’s preferred window with shorter breaks between rounds.

 

Clearly, the elephant in the room is the lack of talent and poor spectacle.

 

“You had the novelty in the first year, then people were going to be more discerning about the standard in the second year, and there was a drop off in people watching, but they keep putting new teams in and the standard will only get worse,’’ a club executive said.

 

It’s a mish-mash of money, exposure, talent, development and support and finding the right solution.

 

Maybe the AFL has to admit its expectation has cooled and, just maybe, the players have to chill out.

 

Robbo, Robbo, Robbo.  You know what makes me angry? Being told to chill out. Would you say this to the blokes if their league and exposure and game time was being reduced in the manner of the women’s game? The second year the AFL undersold, under supported and sullied its own ‘product’ or game.  This was done repeatedly. And continues to be reduced. Your article is a perfect example of the reduction.

 

Unfortunately, you can’t always get what you want when you want it.

 

Unfortunately, Robbo, we don’t want to wait another 100 years for a league of our own. The players and fans have compromised enough.  It’s time to build towards what is needed and promised. If you don’t dream it, can it possibly come to fruition? Let’s not diminish.  Let’s build.

 

Do you enjoy and value the Almanac concept?
And want to ensure it continues in its current form? To help keep things ticking over please consider making a contribution.
To make a one off financial contribution – CLICK HERE
To make a regular financial contribution (monthly EFT) – CLICK HERE
To become an Almanac (annual) member – CLICK HERE

 

About Yvette Wroby

Yvette Wroby writes, cartoons, paints through life and gets most pleasure when it's about football, and more specifically the Saints. Believes in following dreams and having a go.

Comments

  1. Why are you women so jealous of men doing men things?? so much that you want to to take all men’s things, and call them your own…
    Just be a woman, not a man! What is wrong with being a woman??
    What is the saying? Emulation is the biggest form of flattery? or something like that.
    Women use to be a thing of beauty and grace, now just envy , intolerance and restriction! Tut-tutting everything you can’t do, or agree with.
    Tut-Tut!

  2. Good onya Yvette! Have you sent it to him?

  3. Yvette Wroby says:

    Hi J Retter,
    it’s actually the other way around. Who says footy is a men’s thing? You response shows that you are jealous of women doing what they like to do – play a sport.

    Jan, yes, I have tweeted it to Mark Robinson. It’s making the rounds.

  4. Kasey Symons says:

    Yvette, this is just so, so spot on. I am sending you many virtual high-fives! xoxo

  5. Colin Ritchie says:

    Hear! Hear! Well said Yvette. Unfortunately, some men just don’t get it!

  6. Yvette,
    I read Robbo’s column with a mixture of bemusement, frustration, and concern.
    A number of things struck me, a few of which are:
    # The irony of Mark Robinson (or anyone in the footy media) calling something “over-hyped”, when they are the undisputed champions of over-hype.
    # “It is a mess”. No, it is not. All that is being argued for is a nine-game season rather than six. Tat is not a mess at all. If there is a mess, it has been created by the perceived ambivalence of the AFL.
    # “Chill out”. The dismissive nature of this comment really struck a chord with me.
    I am disappointed in Robbo, who had hitherto shown support for the AFLW.

  7. Paul Young says:

    Well said Yvette. Great point about women’s contribution to footy through the hundreds of jobs they perform each week to enable their sons, brothers & fathers to enjoy the game. Plus the millions of dollars in revenue women spend on merchandise & memberships.
    I’ve enjoyed the first two years of AFLW & look forward with excited anticipation to the Kanga ladies running around next season.

    Btw, I’m so over Mark Robinson. I’ve stopped watching 360. I’ve concluded the guy’s a buffoon & his opinion is not worth a pinch of nanny goat’s poop.

  8. Thank you very much Yvette. You’ve clearly articulated your thoughts (which echo so many of ours) in response to each of Robbo’s, despite that being more than he and the article deserves. Keep on fighting the good fight.

    Also, is this Retter J a parody or troll account? Surely you can’t be expected to be taken seriously peddling that kind of drivel.

  9. E.regnans says:

    Well played, Y Wroby.
    I fear that M Robinson’s piece is merely a classic of the divide-and-conquer style.
    I’m unfamiliar with his writing – this one reads like an example of how NOT to write an opinion piece; heavy with emotion and light on logic. And you’ve driven a truck through most of his gaps in argument.

    But then, perhaps this piece was not designed to change anyone’s mind, at all.
    Perhaps it was designed merely to give strength to people who already feel threatened by the rise of women’s footy.
    If that’s true, if this is merely a piece of click bait fanning division – then the writer and editor have misread the landscape, I hope.
    May the forces of togetherness shine a light on even the darkest places.
    We all need each other, I think.

    Good on you.

  10. Peter Hille says:

    Yvette
    Brilliant response to Mark Robinson’s bewildering rave. But after all he is the guy who thinks finishing a sentence is being released from prison.

  11. Yvette Wroby says:

    Hi Kasey, hi five back!
    Thank you Col.
    Hey Smokie, thank you for adding your thoughts and extra points.
    Paul, I haven’t been able to watch it either. Will listen to Gerard any day of the week. Very surprised about his arguments and like David says, his has made a mash of all this.
    Thank you Jarrod.

    Feel today went well and article received and thought about. Thanks for your ongoing support all.

  12. Yvette Wroby says:

    Peter Hille, you made me laugh with that line re prison.

  13. David Henricus says:

    I think it would make a significant point if one weekend was chosen where all women did something else other than footy for the weekend.

    No attendance at an AFLM match or others, not driving a son, husband, brother, boyfriend to a footy match, not working the canteen, not washing footy gear, no cooking/cleaning/serving at after match functions, not completing the scores wrap up for their league, etc, etc.

    It wouldn’t be the absence factor that would stand out, rather, the hope that the male side of the equation would voice their collective disapproval with the AFL stating clearly that the women’s game deserves equal respect.

  14. Anne Myers says:

    Brilliant piece of writing Yvette.

    Yes all those moments of diminishing and attempts at reduction. Just the usual white male gaslighting. Passionate articulate women are calling out the BS. All your responses were perfect. Thank you!!!

  15. Gary Saunders says:

    When men footy started back in the late 1890’s I would like to see what the standard was. I believe that the standard of women’s football is only going to get better. Afl get on the bike and start pushing this product. The All are run by hypocritical men with their heads stuck up their you know what.

  16. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Hear hear Yvette. Robinson is just doing his master’s bidding.

    I’d like to hear from the AFL about the circumstances that would need to exist for them to ever move the AFLW comp from its late summer/early autumn current timeframe.

    Channel 7 unexpectedly getting the cricket rights may have a lot to do with the AFL’s woolly headed thinking. Maybe we should be asking renowned feminist Tim Worner where he stands on this.

  17. If the AFL is serious about women’s footy, it has to treat it as a serious professional competition and not a sideshow to fill a hole in the sporting calendar. Sell tickets to games. Expand the schedule gradually. If that means fewer televised games, so be it. Instead, sell the experience of attending a game. Work with clubs to grow the sport on the grassroots level and increase youth participation. Start the season earlier if need be, or run it into the opening weeks of men’s footy. That’s the only way you’ll find out the depth of interest.

    Plenty of minor sports leagues have started in the USA (where I’m from). Many fail, but the ones that succeed have a plan and vision and build a loyal fan base through promotional expertise. It seems the AFL thought just starting the league was enough, without committing the resources and smarts to making it the best it could be. And everyone senses this ambivalence, which is why we’re where we are now.

  18. John Butler says:

    Well said Yvette.

    The Robinson piece is presumably intended as click bait. As a constructed argument it is a disaster.

    This presumably represents what the Herald Sun thinks of its audience (such as remains).

  19. I quite like watching the AFLW and consider the AFL should allow for a longer women’s season, even if the last few rounds are played as curtain raisers for the AFL (as GlennB suggests). What annoys me though, is the dilution of talent by introducing more teams too quickly into the competition and allowing marquis players, who have built a following, to leave their foundation AFLW club and join another club as a total free agent. Unfortunately the ‘corporatism’ of the AFL treats both the men’s and women’s comps as products.

  20. Joe De Petro says:

    Good stuff, Yvette, although I am a bit bemused as to why anyone would bother writing such a cogent response to a Mark Robinson piece. He is no Oscar Wilde.

    One of my biggest thrills this year has been talking on the phone with my daughter in London and hearing about her exploits on the AFL fields of the Old Dart. She and her London Swanettes played off in a Grand Final last week and she has been living one of her childhood dreams over the last two years.

    This thing has taken off and cannot be contained any more. And I can’t wait until the Tigers get a gig! Imagine how big it will be once the Crazy Tribe get involved!

  21. Dave Brown says:

    Onya, Yvette! I find the AFL much easier to understand these days by just assuming it is owned and run by Channel 7. The issues raised have absolutely nothing to do with the hype or standard of the women’s game, just the size of the broadcasting window between the cricket and the men’s footy. Everything else is mere window dressing covering the fact that the AFL only wants AFLW as far as it is not in any way an inconvenience to Channel 7’s programming (of course, tolerating women up to the point where they become an inconvenience has never happened before in history [sarcasm font]). Much in the same way as all of the hoo ha about the men’s game this year has really boiled down to Channel 7 wanting an extra ad break each quarter.

    As for over-hyped – the necessary flipside that the men’s product is somehow separable from or worthy of its ‘hype’ is hilariously facile, even for Mr Robinson.

    The AFL is quite rare as a mass spectator men’s sport that its % of female spectators is so high. Their administration is currently so short sighted that they appear to be willing to denigrate 50% of their audience because they can’t think of a way to schedule 48 games in 11 weeks. Keep up the good fight!

  22. Rick Kane says:

    Hi Yvette

    Terrific take down of an absurd, offensive, condescending, straw-man, small-minded waffle of an argument. Robbo’s piece will surely enter the museum of mansplaining. I can’t add much to what you have so articulately and eloquently written and the comments that have added to your grounded, considered rebuttal. I’m just commenting so you know you have another supporter!

    Cheers

Leave a Comment

*