AFLW: She’ll be right – are compromises really necessary?

Are we patronising the women’s game by making accommodations and compromises to supposedly ‘improve’ the spectacle and the public interest, when it’s the men’s game style that is at risk of boring us to death?


I was disappointed to see the rationale given for the rule change in the AFLW this year, which will see the introduction of the ‘last touch’ rule – that is, rather than a boundary throw-in, the ball will be handed to the nearest opposing player to the team that last touched the ball in play. This rule has been trialled in the SANFL men’s competition this year, with underwhelming results in regard to any real improvement to the game. (I acknowledge that the concept of ‘ improvement to the game’ is a very subjective thing, and is determined by your particular image of what the ideal style, format, and spectacle should be – which is probably different for all of us).


It has been stated by the AFL and commentators that the last-touch rule change has been made to ‘reduce congestion’ and increase goal scoring in the women’s game. What concerns me is not so much the specific change, but the assumption that the women’s game needs some tinkering with because it is (apparently) not as entertaining or free-flowing as the men’s game currently – which by implication assumes that the men’s game is always an invigorating and pure style of open footy to watch, and a style that the women should be aspiring to. Really? I’m reminded of the old cartoon of two women saying – “Equality with men ? Actually we had something better in mind”.


Firstly, regarding low scores – there were several games in the men’s AFL in 2017 when a very low score was achieved by teams, such as Hawthorn’s one goal haul in a first half , and several others where scores were at record lows – however these were still quite entertaining games. So it would seem that low scores are not an issue in the women’s game alone, but simply an indication of the nature of modern football where the capacity and skills of defenders are as good as they’ve ever been in the history of the game, and where the strategy of the game is to defend and protect territory (or zones) rather than getting a score on the board as the primary target – guerrilla warfare rather than Custer’s last charge to the forward fifty. Guerilla tactics are usually more effective in the long run if you are simply after an ugly victory, which is why most coaches prefer that style – but result in fewer open forays and acts of heroism in the goal square, and therefore less scoring – which can result in a more dour spectacle for the populace.


…. And regarding congestion – are they seriously suggesting that the women’s game is overly congested in comparison to the men’s, to the point where a major rule change is required? How many games of men’s footy recently have been like watching gravy go lumpy? In many games we have been offered the excruciating spectacle of thirty-odd players coagulating around a boundary throw in, with the express aim of making sure the ball goes absolutely nowhere for as long as possible. The ‘pressure’ mantra has often resulted in an endless series of close-in handball/tackle, handball/tackle, handball/tackle exercises that reminds one of an awkward and inelegant B&S dance programme – and no-one is game to get the ball out into the clear because there’s no-one to get it out to (in space they can’t hear you call for the ball). By contrast, the women’s games have been fast and relatively open, while still retaining a very significant element of pressure tackling and – that strange new word – ‘physicality’. (This is a word that was grasped with relief by coy commentators who had perhaps never watched actual women’s sport and were surprised by the fact that girls can go in hard when required, and what’s more, actually enjoy the contest).


The legendary (and definitely not new school) Neil Kerley in a recent interview commented that it was the men’s game that urgently needs some changes to avert its inevitable low road plunge into the bog of endless stoppages and scrums, and advocated that the men’s game should consider following the AFLW concept of a 16 player side, to provide more space and run on the field. Malcolm Blight also referred to this issue in his awards speech last year. As a long time South Adelaide Panthers supporter, anything that Neil Kerley says is worthy of great respect, as he took us from bottom of the ladder to our last premiership in one year – bless you Kerls and the boys of ’64 – and welcome to South as the newest women’s team in the SANFL next season. Go Yeos !


It’s been interesting to hear many of my male friends, some of whom were politely sceptical of the AFLW initially, comment that one of the aspects of the women’s game that they have really enjoyed is that the game is free flowing, and has the sheer joy and respect for the game at its centre. The word ‘authentic’ was a common one used by my blokey footy-loving friends after watching the first few games. These are not the kind of positive adjectives they were later using to describe the men’s games that they sat through in frustration, as the tackle count became the only KPI that mattered.


Perhaps the question should be asked as to how the men’s game can become more interesting and true to its original terms of reference. And how can this happen, not just through endless rule changes which usually achieve little, but through the leaders in the game (coaches and senior players in particular) working on ensuring a great and gritty style of men’s footy is played and enjoyed – rather than tinkering with the women’s game which by comparison is developing just fine thanks.


I’d like to see the women’s game left alone for a while so that it can evolve into its natural and unique form over time, and which may look somewhat different to the men’s in the future, but will be a fascinating game to watch and play. I’m reminded that one of the most entertaining and beautiful games of footy I’ve ever seen was a game between the Kimberley Tigers and the Broome Bulls in the 80s – most of the players were Aboriginal and most had no boots, but were decked out in immaculate kit and played like the game was intended – with respect, pride and joy, incredible skill and determination, and with a huge crowd cheering every effort. Who won? Was it a low score? I don’t remember or care – it was footy at its best. I think the public’s overwhelming interest in the AFLW indicates that these are the values and principles of the game and the players, that we want (and need) to see, and that inspire us in these challenging times.


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Footy Almanac 2017






  1. Yvette Wroby says

    Thanks for your thoughts Verity. I am beyond frustrated at all the ways that the women’s game has been interfered with. Less on the field, the new rules about last touch, the short quarters instead of the full time (which would mean there would be more opportunity to score), no added time on for scoring…all have the effect of shortening and experimenting. Then the powers to be put AFLX on just after the women start, and have had little to no publicity.

    The fans have been more vocal on websites about the coming season.

    Stop experimenting with the women’s game, as you say, and fix up the blokes if you want to do some experimenting.

    Welcome to the Almanac! And to season 2018.

  2. Kasey Symons says

    Completely agree Verity – can’t they just leave the women’s game alone. They have been playing the same rules in the VFLW for years and that competition has delivered quality football for fans.

    I also wish the players could be more honest in their interviews about these issues, they’ve obviously been told not to comment on the rules as each player has just given a generic response – I wish I knew what they were really thinking!

  3. John Butler says

    Pertinent article, Verity.

    On the subject of what they’re really thinking, I found Nicole Livinstone’s initial comments upon her appointment curious. Rather than her own opinions, they sounded rather like lines fed straight from the marketing department.

    Whilst it’s good to finally have someone unambiguously looking after women’s footy, it will be interesting to see if her role develops any real clout down the line.


  4. I fully understand the frustrations, Verity.
    However, I am curious to see what the “last touch” rule brings. Maybe that should have been trialled in AFLX (whatever that is!!)
    My biggest beef is that the AFLW matches are so short. Lengthen them, please – or at the very least introduce time-on (as mentioned by Yvette above).

  5. Ben Footner says

    Some excellent thoughts/observations there Verity.

    I was actually pondering the same issue myself, but relating to cricket and tennis while I was watching over the weekend.

    I’ve always been puzzled by the 3 versus 5 set situation in tennis. Tennis is a game of endurance and skill, and surely in this day and age with professionalism as it is women can now compete over the same set length, particularly when they now mostly receive the same level of prize money put back into their training etc..

    Cricket is less clear cut as there is an element of strength to the game, particularly in the sort form where the ability to hit 6’s is important – but did find myself questioning whether cricket could almost be an ‘open’ sport in 50 over and test formats. Granted it’s unlikely that you’d get a female fast bowler, but when it comes to batting, spin, and handy medium pace I can’t see why females would not be able to match it with males if they were given access to the same level of coaching, training and fitness work.

  6. I hate tinkering with the rules. Hate it. Blokes footy has been bastardised for years by tinkering by the AFL. And most decisions around new tinkering are made for knee jerk reasons. To me tinkering is unintelligent. Its not a decision its like a committee report which has an aim that is neither articulated or measured. Look at the third man up rule change (sorry, re-interpretation). Stuffed up a big part of Geelong’s game plan. For what? The worst part is that there is no accountability.

    This is what should happen:
    Leave the game alone. But if it can’t be left alone, follow a procedure.
    AFL changes a rule and tells us why. It then publishes the yardsticks by which the success or failure of the change is measured. These days called a KPI. At the end of the year or trial period success or failure is measured for all to see. This is normal business management practice. The main issue with the AFL’s tinkering is that it is soooo subjective and never measured.

    Leave the bloody game alone.

    The last touch rule will be a disaster. Two players go for the ball on the boundary. Hands and feet everywhere. Who touched it last? Who knows? So we go to the video tape, the snick-ometre, ball tracking, a third umpire forchristssake!!

  7. Verity Sanders says

    Hey Ben – I totally agree that the quality of women’s cricket is more than adequate now to allow the boundary ropes to be brought back out to the standard (men’s) placing ( not the 55 metre minimum rule that currently applies for women) – the Womens Cricket World Cup last year showed that the batting quality is excellent now, and these compromises are not necessary – Besides which, since when did sixes become the criteria for what constitutes entertaining cricket ? – how many sixes did Bradman or Morris hit in an innings? – bugger all !!! (You mad cricket statisticians might check that – love yas ). And one of the commentators suggested during the horribly hot Australian Open that the men’s tennis major tournaments should be brought back to 3 sets (as the women play) – the majority of men’s tennis circuit games are best of 3 sets – only the major tournaments are five. And do we need to adapt to changing climatic conditions – especially in Australia ? Men and women’s sport will always be different – and beautiful in their own way – let it be.
    … and just to clarify Dips – the ‘last touch rule’ is actually a bit different to the soccer or netball type – its more the ‘last possession rule’ where whoever kicks the ball out ( whether on-the-full on or not) loses possession to the opposition, but if its a contested ball where the ball dribbles over the line it will still be thrown in – good luck to the umps on that one. I’ll watch with interest on Saturday at the Crows vers Brisbane game at the beautiful Norwood Oval – even with the messing around of rules I’m sure it’ll be a fabulous game, and a celebration of sport. Stay positive – and Go Croweaters !

  8. bring back the torp says

    A well written article, Verity, but I disagree with your basic premise: Rule differences ARE needed for the AFLW (at least for now).
    It should be noted that the 2017 & 2018 AFLW Rule differences were decided on by a committee that also included female players.

    Incidentally, not all men’s & boys’ Leagues have exactly the same Rules as the AFL eg the VAFA still retains the old Rule for an actual PUSH in the back in a marking contest (ie not just hands in the back); & the VAFA has a 25 mtr penalty, not 50 mtrs. Some Leagues allow 16-a-side, don’t have Time-On (except for injury, lost ball).
    Also, the AFLW in 2018 will only pay a free kick against a player who HAND BALLS or KICKS the ball out of bounds -it is not simply “last touch”. If the ball is fumbled over, it will be a throw-in.
    (A similar Rule existed in the VFL from the 20’s to c.1939. The VFL then also wanted a more free flowing game, with less stoppages, & to encourage scoring)

    There IS a problem (caused by the 4 man interchange) in the AFL with flooding & heavy congestion/increased stoppages/scrappy play/low scoring/record tackle & collision nos./lower rates of long kicking & contested high marking, rolling ” rugby maul” of modern AF.
    This major aesthetic problem has been publicly recognised by Barassi, Hafey, Sheedy, Bartlett, Parkin, Jeans, Pagan, G.Healy, Russel, Brereton & many other experts. Demetriou famously berated Sydney in early 2005 for their heavy flooding, scrappy, low scoring style! And Fitzpatrick, after he resigned as AFL Chairman, said he argued at the Commission to reduce the AFL interchange to a maximum of 30 per team -but was, INCREDIBLY, overturned in the vote!

    This major problem is exacerbated in the AFLW -because their players don’t yet have the speedy kicking & hand balling skills to QUICKLY & ACCURATELY hit a target, which are required to escape the congestion.
    AFL players have been playing AF since they were about 5 y.o., are full time players, who train for 10 months pa. -women generally have FAR less AF experience, as many have only taken up the game much later.
    It is expected that AFLW games will be lower scoring, since the qtrs. are much shorter -& women can’t kick as far as men.
    Also, playing the AFLW in the often hot Aust. summer DAYTIME (absurd -start all games between 6 to 8 pm!) inevitably means that for women (& men), there will be a deterioration in skill levels. The strong heat causes sweaty hands/sweat in the eyes/sun tan lotion melting & stinging the eyes/ fatigue /diminished concentration/sun in the eyes sometimes etc.

    If the AFLW played 18 a side & had all the same AFL Rules, we would see even lower average scores, & even more congestion/scrappy play in the AFLW. This would be VERY deleterious to its reputation, & cause reduced interest in the AFLW.
    It is very pleasing to see the much higher average scoring & skill execution in the AFLW practice games played last week end -probably due to the latest Rule changes, & better & longer pre season training.

    I expect, in c.10 years+, average AFLW skills, if they become full time & the AFLW is able to generally attract the best female athletes, will be very similar to the average AFL player skills.

    I enjoyed watching the AFLW in 2017, & I expect the AFLW will again attract excellent crowds & ratings in 2018. It is a great spectacle of fierce, uncompromising football.
    The average AFLW crowd of c. 6800 in 2017 was a world record for a female stand alone (ie not played pre or post with a men’s game) H & A competition average crowd (ie not international matches).
    If the Perth Stadium attracts over 53, 000 between Freo. V. Coll., this will be a similar world record (ABC announced today already 40,000 tickets have been sold for this Round 2 match)!

    Incidentally, it would be appreciated if you could recount the negative comments made by Kerley & Blight re the current flooding/stoppages low scoring style of AFL games.

  9. Verity Sanders says

    Thanks BBT Torp – Just on your last para request for the references – The interview with Neil Kerley (and his views on the modern game) can be viewed at . ( Warning – not entirely PC in the animal protection department – or any other department for that matter – but an entertaining chat with the legendary KG Cunningham)
    The Malcolm Blight reference was in relation to his speech at the Hall of Fame Awards last year, where he warned against Aussie Rules becoming another form of rugby.

    Almanacers might enjoy the below video of the 1973 State Game ( Vic vs SA) – unfortunately only the last quarter is still available, and the video ends before SA kicks the last goal, but what a great game. If you like a torp you’ll love this – not to mention dropkicks from Michael Graham …. and comments from the legendary Wally May. Some great players on both sides, including a young fella called Bruce Light who sadly passed away last week. A player of the time said that no-one liked playing on Bruce because ‘he’d either run past you or over the top of you’. The Speed of Light was the inspiration for many duffle coats with number 26 on the back at Port games in the day. Bruce also led an extraordinarily inspiring and unique life off the field, predominantly in education. He showed how life and death can be embraced with courage and compassion. Vale.

  10. bring back the torp says


    The media is reporting this morning the AFLW has had its media launch today -& McLachlan said ” In the last 2 years, female participation has tripled, and 500 new female teams have been created”.
    The AFL is, certainly, fully aware of the importance of the AFLW -& wants it to maximise its success & influence.

    I should have added above that it is a concern that the AFLX will be played in February. This will inevitably decrease some of the ” clear media air” that is so important for the AFLW to capture the media spotlight, & enhance its crowds & ratings. The AFLX is a good concept, but should not be played concurrently with the AFLW.

    For clarity, the 2017 AFLW crowd average of c. 6800 is a world record for any female football, stand alone H & A code. The WNBA, which started in 1996, is a professional female comp. in a country of c.320,000,000. It had a H & A average of c.7665 in 2016 -but I’m not sure if all their games are stand alone.
    IMO, it is almost inevitable the AFLW will surpass their average, especially when “big” Clubs like Richmond, Essendon, WC, Hawthorn & Geelong are added (cf some of the current smallest AFLW Clubs). N. Livingstone, AFLW CEO, said in Dec. 2017 said she hopes the AFLW will eventually become a comp. for full time, professional players -an huge advance for the AFL, AFLW, & GR AF.

  11. Dave Brown says

    Great piece, Verity. I’m very torn on this issue. I agree that the tampering with AFLW rules suggests a weakness that does not exist and the justifications given for the last disposal rule are bunkum. From the other perspective I think the last disposal rule is a good rule and should be implemented at all levels of football.

    The congestion argument made by the AFL is of limited justifiability – over the two years the rule has been in place in the SANFL players have noticeably stayed away from the boundaries more often but that just means there’ll be more numbers in the corridor. Where I think the rule is superior is it (almost completely) gets rid of the horrible deliberate out of bounds/insufficient intent rule. The less the umpires are expected to read minds, the easier it will be to officiate and appreciate.

    I would hate to see AFLW become a testing ground for what the AFL still clearly considers to be their proper competition.

  12. Brian Hales says

    I’m with you Verity – all I want to see is my side win. How they get there doesn’t bother me – leave it to the experts ie coaches and players

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