Even by its own standards, the AFL appears to be on the verge of one of the most tin-eared acts of bastardry in all its days.
Only Jolimont, or wherever the suits hang out these days, could turn the best football story of the past couple of years into a public relations train wreck.
The suggestion that the AFLW be restricted to a competition of six home-and-away games and two weeks of finals in 2019 (from seven and a Grand Final), despite the addition of two new teams, has, unsurprisingly, provoked a storm of protest.
The new dawn of that magic occasion last year, when they had to turn thousands away from the first AFLW match at Princes Park, suddenly seems very distant.
The AFL misjudged it then, originally scheduling the opener for a training ground, before shifting it to a larger venue. Even then too many came, AFL chief Gillon McLachlan personally apologising to disgruntled fans outside the stadium.
McLachlan was a champion of the women’s game. He was, rightfully, praised for his leadership in getting the competition up and running.
Now he has cast himself as a latter day Petruchio, making the women beg for morsels at his table.
But the players show no inclination to be tamed. From the mighty Daisy Pearce down, they have roared their disapproval.
I understand the need and the AFL’s desire to maximise the commerciality of AFLW, but I don’t think a 6 game season will be able to do that anyway, doesn't less games = less commercial opportunities? As an athlete it’ll be hard to justify the sacrifices we make for 6 games.
— Lily Mithen (@lily_mithen) August 3, 2018
— Daisy Pearce (@DaisyPearce6) August 3, 2018
McLachlan’s remark that the World Cup is played over only four weeks was either disingenuous or witless. The comparison is bunk. That is a finals series after years of competition.
As the players have said, they simply want a fair dinkum competition. This is not difficult. The AFL needs only increase the number of games to nine – allowing every team to play each other once – and two weeks of finals.
Anything less, and the AFL stands accused of the worst tokenism, cynical virtue signalling without substance.
Girls are flocking to the game across Melbourne. They are taking fearless speccies, laying crunching tackles, getting dumped in the mud and turning up to school on Monday with black eyes and beaming smiles. That they are able to express themselves in a manner hitherto deemed outside of the mainstream is one of the great social advances in recent years.
Now the AFL is in danger of telling them that they belong in the corner. That they are a novelty, somehow not the real thing. Plenty of girls still aspire to go to the Brownlow on the arm of a “footballer”, not as a footballer. This reinforces that attitude.
The AFL must back down – or batten down.
Patrick Smithers is a former sports editor of The New Daily and The Age