Sport AFLW expansion to create 18-team league in 2022-23

AFLW expansion to create 18-team league in 2022-23

Gillon McLachlan is sending a message to every female playing football with 18 teams in the AFLW. Photo: AAP
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All 18 AFL clubs will have an AFLW team for the start of the 2022-23 season after the league awarded licences to Essendon, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and Sydney.

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan confirmed the women’s competition would be expanded to 18 teams, in what he described as a “defining day in the history of Australian football”.

“All four remaining clubs, Essendon, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and the Sydney Swans will join the AFLW competition in 2022 ready for season seven,” McLachlan told reporters on Thursday.

“Simply, the competition is now whole.

“To have 18 AFLW clubs is to send a message to every female playing footy that they can play for any one of our 18 teams.”

The league has taken a staggered approach to expansion throughout its history, starting with an eight-team competition in 2017, which expanded to 10 teams ahead of 2019 and 14 ahead of 2020.

Plans for further expansions were announced in May and all four of the Hawks, Bombers, Swans and Power had to present their cases for licences.

McLachlan was confident there was “enough talent” to add four more teams and all 18 clubs could handle the additional workload of having both men’s and women’s programs.

The 2021-22 season, which starts in early December, will be a 14-team competition with 10 home-and-away rounds plus finals.

McLachlan said season length and player pay were “ongoing discussions” but hinted it was unlikely the expanded competition would see every team play each other once.

He also described the controversial conference system as “suspended” rather than ruling it out.

“I don’t believe, per say, there is any greater integrity or commitment to the season by playing each other once,” McLachlan said.

“That’s where many of the players are, certainly. I believe that sustainable growth is the path forward.

“We will get there at some point, but it needs to be sustainable.”

McLachlan also acknowledged the lack of female head coaches across the 14 AFLW clubs this season was an issue and said introducing quotas had been discussed.

“AFLW’s about more than just the ability for women to play at the elite level, it’s about administration, it’s about coaching, it’s about all of the areas of our game where women have been under-represented, and coaching continues to be one of those,” he said.

“We know we can do better. We know our clubs know that.

“… (quotas) have been raised. I think our clubs are clear that we need greater female representation in the coaching ranks and the discussion is not going away.”

On Thursday evening, Hawthorn confirmed its VFLW coach Bec Goddard would be in charge once they are elevated to the national league.

Goddard coached Adelaide to the inaugural AFL premiership.