BIRCH: Come on, boys. Join the push for a historic joint CBA

IN OCTOBER, the collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) for both AFL and AFLW players are set to expire. For the first time, the League’s men’s and women’s players have the chance to negotiate a joint CBA.

This provides a golden opportunity for both groups to work together on important issues such as player contracts, increased pay, better working conditions and combined broadcast deals.

It would no doubt take a strong and unified approach from both male and female players to achieve a fair outcome, particularly where AFLW players are concerned.

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But as Brisbane AFLW coach Craig Starcevich pondered recently, the question remains about whether male players would be willing to go in to bat for their female colleagues in a joint CBA.

The most recent successful example of this was achieved in Australian cricket with both men’s and women’s players coming together to strike a joint deal in their CBA. The male cricketers’ efforts to support the push for pay equality within the game not only showed the necessary respect for their female colleagues but also made an important statement about what Australian cricket would stand for. The result: the same base of pay regardless of gender.

Like any good partnership, this collaboration between AFL and AFLW players can’t just begin on the negotiation table. It needs to continue to flourish and grow away from it.

This is about mutual respect; it’s certainly not about pushing for tokenistic behaviours.

Regardless of how long it takes to achieve equality in our game, the act of simply standing together to help the game as a whole grow will help strengthen efforts to achieve a fair game for all

Libby Birch

As an AFLW player I believe we have a huge responsibility to continue to grow the game outside the field of play. Our role reaches far beyond just being great athletes. We are role models and leaders, and we have a significant part to play in the perception of equality and inclusion among fans and future generations.

Over the past few years, the involvement and voice of male players to support the AFLW competition has been left to too few. The consistent public backing of the women’s game from the likes of Jordan Roughead, Ben Brown, Patrick Dangerfield, Easton Wood and Dustin Martin has been meaningful but not enough.

Although I greatly appreciate what they are doing for our game, I feel strongly that this should be an expectation. Ultimately, regardless of our genders, we are all elite players.

Where we can, we should use our voice to role model equality. This can be as simple as seeing more male players sharing their thoughts on our game. A great example of this was when Dangerfield tweeted his admiration for Richmond superstar Monique Conti during the first round of the NAB AFLW season.

Conti’s teammate Ellie McKenzie also received some much-deserved attention when Martin nominated her as one of his favourite AFLW players.

It has also been terrific to see both male and female players attending each other’s games with their families and loved ones.

This year, our Melbourne's AFL players went to town buying AFLW memberships, and it was fantastic to see this public support for our team and our game. It was even more imperative for existing fans to see such a seamless integration of both men’s and women’s sides.

Brown and Roughead have been enormous leaders within the industry, particularly with the coaching side of the game. Both players have been a huge part of the women’s programs at each club they have played at over the past few seasons. They have sung the song of women’s football as loudly and as proudly as if it were their own game.

Ben Brown (right) at Demons training on January 13, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

However, these actions need to be more consistent, particularly before meeting at the negotiation table, because over time it will be less about the separating factor of gender and more about ensuring the best outcome for us as elite footballers.

If we can continue to show initiative and leadership to learn about and be involved in each other’s game, I believe it will set us in good position to stand up for one another and push for a historic joint CBA.

Regardless of how long it takes to achieve equality in our game, the act of simply standing together to help the game as a whole grow will help strengthen efforts to achieve a fair game for all.

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