Best pay, most engaged fans: AFL's stunning plans for women's football

NAB AFLW players will become the best paid sportswomen in an Australian domestic competition and at least half of the AFLW senior coaches will be women by 2030, according to the AFL's newly released Women's Football Vision.

Encompassing all levels of female football, from elite to juniors and grassroots and inclusive of administration, umpiring and coaching, the Vision sets out the AFL's overarching goals for the next decade.

Other "aspirational targets" of the Vision include:
- Equal participation and representation in community footy by 2030
- Strong and visible pathways for administrators to ensure women are positioned for senior football roles
- The most engaged audience across any women's sporting competition in Australia
- Attract and retain corporate partners who share in the Women's Football Vision

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The Vision does not lay out the progression of the lengthening of the AFLW season (currently 10 rounds and three weeks of finals for 14 teams, having begun with seven rounds and a Grand Final for eight teams in 2017), nor indicate when footballers will become full-time.

Participation rates in women's football have skyrocketed since the inception of the AFLW.

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In 2016 (the year the competition was announced), there were 983 community women's teams and 380,000 women and girls playing, which has risen to more than 2500 teams and 600,000 players.

Currently, 47 per cent of venues host women's football, but only 35 per cent have "female friendly" changerooms.

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Based on 2019 figures, 10.5 per cent of umpires and 6.8 per cent of coaches are women (inclusive of community footy).

The Vision also calls out that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls and women are underrepresented at all levels of the sport, and face additional challenges "including dealing with the intersection of racism and sexism and the corresponding social, economic, political impacts," with access to facilities due to the remote or regional location of communities another factor.

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Three pillars have been identified to help direct the development of women's football – participation (inclusive of coaching, umpiring and administration), pathways and performance, and partnerships.

The AFL's new program workplay – a platform which connects players and prospective employers to assist in work flexibility – is also included in the Vision.

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AFL GM of women's football Nicole Livingstone said details such as season length and firm payment details are aligned with the Collective Bargaining Agreement and negotiations with the AFLPA, rather than in the Vision document.

"AFLW is within this vision, in the pathways and performance section, so any of those details need to be worked through with the AFL and the AFLPA," Livingstone said.

"We do have a CBA in place, so our focus is at the moment is on the longest season we have had – 10 home-and-aways, three weeks of finals and we've moved on from seven and one. We have new clubs coming, and with them I'm sure we'll have more rounds."

(L-R) Abigail Barwick, Angelena Roan, Kirby Bentley, Greta Miller and Ellie McKenzie. Picture: AFL Photos

Livingstone said the current four-tier payment structure may change with the new CBA, set to be created at the end of 2022.

"Average pay would be where we start, in terms of this nine-year period that we're looking at. It's important to note as well we have 480 players contracted to AFLW clubs, we are the single biggest employers of female athletes, and with four new clubs, that's set to rise to 540.

"My language is a little different to 'full-time' (athletes). The next step is to look at 'year-round athletes'. Right now, they're on six-month contracts and we know they want to play more footy and train more, so to be able to look at what it looks like for year-round.

"We're coming up to six years into it, a lot of work to be done, and those details to be confirmed with the AFLPA. The aspiration is to move it to year-round, with a holistic approach, putting all your eggs in one basket is not a recipe for success.

"I think the way we program AFLW is really important. Right now, our players come into clubs after 5pm and train. The furnace is up, and they cram a lot into their day. So to look at the programming works, to work with the PA, the clubs as to how best support our players."