Michael Sholly – VAFA CEO
Round 1 2017 will go down as one of the most significant in the history of the VAFA. This was the day when women became fully included in the association, with 40 new teams joining the 230 male equivalents to become the biggest, and might I dare say, best community football competition in Australia. Women are no longer content to sit on the sidelines and are exercising their right to participate in the VAFA as players.
This is a game changer. The pre-match rituals at clubs on a Thursday night will not be the same. And from everyone I have spoken to, the cultural change is for the better.
Think of those who are preparing the food on Thursday night, which has seen the numbers in some cases double. A couple of clubs I spoke to advised me that they fed over 200 people when they read the teams out. Congratulations to all the clubs who have taken the step into the unknown and engaged the women in their community. Change is never easy and those clubs have had to trust the VAFA, the councils and a myriad of others to make this work.
I have seen a number of women’s matches, at both the lightning premiership and during Round 1, and I am confident we will have a number of our girls playing in the AFL Women’s competition in 2018. Whilst we are all about participation, we still should provide the environment for our players to aspire to higher levels. Who will join Gary Dempsey, Ross Smith and Robert Dipierdeminico as a VAFA player to win the Brownlow equivalent in the women’s competition?
We should also extend our congratulations to the umpiring department who have had to cope with not only the extra matches but also the unusual fixturing which now sees the VAFA played at any time from Friday night right through to Sunday evening. The last women’s match for the weekend was played between St Bedes/Mentone Tigers and Old Mentonians at 4.30pm on Sunday evening.
With the influx of women teams into the competition, clubs will have to decide on what is the best size for them. Whilst clubs want to be inclusive, they must also have the ability to cater for these extra teams. Our largest club, St Kevin’s has four senior men’s teams, three Under 19’s, two women’s and a masters’ team. Ten senior teams takes an incredible amount of organisation and this causes added stress on the committee to not only undertake the operations of the weekly matches but also to be able to fund the organisation.
This is a difficult problem to solve as there are varying needs at each club when we are all about participation. But there must be limit to these clubs and how big they can grow. Not only does it stretch the clubs resources but in time it may affect the competitive balance in our Premier Section. If one club has up to 200 male players available for selection for their senior team they are surely going to have an advantage over clubs that have 90 players. In extension then the only teams that can win our Premier Grand Final are those with the most amount of players to choose from?
This is a question that the Board needs to consider as we enter the next phase in the VAFA’s development.
This weekend I am looking forward to attending matches down at Geelong College when four of the Old Geelong teams head down the highway. The senior firsts and reserves along with their Under 19’s and women’s team are all playing at the school to showcase their club to the Geelong community. Particular thanks must go to Williamstown in the seniors and Old Trinity in the Under 19’s and women for agreeing to play the matches.