By Michael Sholly – @vafaceo
In conjunction with the launch of the new AFL women’s competition in 2017, the VAFA – in our 125th year – is endeavouring to be the first stand-alone women’s community competition in Melbourne. A number of matches will be played this Saturday in between the reserves and the senior competitions. These matches, whilst being restricted in times, are to give women the opportunity to play a match in a senior club environment.
Currently seven VAFA clubs have women’s teams participating in the Victorian Women’s Football League (VWFL). The most senior of these is the Melbourne University Football Club who are represented in the Premier Section. In 2014 we had four clubs and five teams, in 2015 two more teams enter with another team, the St Kevin’s Saints, commencing in 2016. In the current Division 3 of the VWFL, the VAFA has five of the seven teams competing. Other clubs competing are Kew and La Trobe University in Division 1, as well as Brunswick Renegades (NOBSPC), Fitzroy and AJAX in Division 3. Fitzroy also have a second team in the North West Division.
Along with these already competing clubs, the VAFA has another nine teams competing in the youth girl competitions in the Yarra and South Metro Junior competitions. There are a further 32 schoolgirl teams competing in the Girls Sport Victoria weekly competition. All of these girls are going to need a community football competition to continue their football experience. I am sure that once the game is televised next year there will be more opportunities for clubs to expand their membership.
Women’s sport, and team sport in particular, is gaining momentum. The Australian female cricket and soccer teams have led the way and for too long Australian Rules hasn’t been at the forefront of promoting women’s football. The recent upgrade of female contracts announced by Cricket Australia shows there is now a viable career opportunity for women playing cricket.
The same is slowly occurring in Australian Rules football both on and off the ground. Collingwood recently appointed former University Blues administrator and Eastern devils player, Meg Hutchins, in a full-time capacity as the Female Football Operations Manager. Collingwood aims to create paths for girls and women that until now have only been open for boys and men.
The VAFA has the same aim. Why should our clubs only be available for boys and men to participate? The VAFA is a great competition, a leader in community sport and we should be the first community competition outside the AFL to manage our own competition.
Whilst it may not be viable for all clubs immediately, there is no reason why in the longer term, that each has a women’s team. Unfortunately for co-educational schools in the APS and AGSV, it is going to be more difficult as they do not provide a competition for girls to play football at their schools. Hopefully this will change as the sport gains popularity.
Congratulations to those clubs who have already embarked on a women’s football program either as a team competing in the VWFL, who have promoted girls football through their junior affiliates and also to those clubs who have endeavoured to get some action at committee level.
If we look to the future I am sure your club won’t be complete unless there is a women’s team competing in their colours.