Williamstown Football Club board member Michelle Redfern appeared to experience some gastrointestinal issues on Monday night, as she took to social media in response to what is claimed to be a series of attacks on the AFLW competition in recent weeks.
The well-known and respected gender diversity advocate fired off a series of questions to AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan during his appearance on Channel 7’s Talking Footy, asking the AFL boss about the consultation process around any changes to AFLW in 2019.
“What is the long-term strategy for the AFLW and how can the AFL convince us that broader consultation with seasoned experts in the female game from a female playing, coaching, leadership and administration perspective is taking place,” Ms Redfern said.
“I’m really looking forward to hearing your in depth and considered response about why stakeholders aren’t feeling like the AFL is taking women’s footy seriously. No one on Harbourside Drive really does give a tinkers about AFLW.”
“One question so far about whether games will be free or not. If I hear any more justification of the Gold Coast debacle, I’ll regurgitate my delightful dinner. Pass the wine. I am about to do a pooper valve.”
The warning about an impending explosion of bodily functions came after weeks of minced words from AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan on the future of AFLW, further fuelled by colourful commentary from radio and television broadcasters.
On July 30, football commentator and Talking Footy panellist Brian Taylor turned a blowtorch on his Channel 7 colleague Daisy Pearce after the AFLW star “abandoned her post” during Seven’s Sunday AFL broadcast.
“Being a boundary rider in our game is a privilege. It’s a job that hundreds apply for each year, but only a special few actually get to be a boundary rider. There’s only so much we, the commentary box, can tell the viewers because they get sick of the same voice.”
“Yes Daisy, it was cold in Ballarat. I was there too. But you, just like the Bulldogs, went missing after half time and you came and sat up in the commentary box. Now you abandoned your post and you are the first ever to do so.”
On August 3, the Herald Sun reported that the AFL is set to change from a seven-week season to a six-match season with a two-week finals series, news that received a quick response from AFLW players representing the code.
Melbourne’s AFLW captain Daisy Pearce took the airwaves of SEN Breakfast to deliver the most stinging criticism of the AFL’s proposal, questioning the competition’s legitimacy should the season be reduced.
Melbourne captain Daisy Pearce talks AFLW on SEN Breakfast. (03/08/18)
“I get there is a commercial reality that they want to keep this competition within the little free space, eight-week timeslot where there is no sport. I think that was the reason for it in the first two years while it was in its infancy and getting going,” Ms Pearce said.
“But I thought when those two new teams came in … I was rubbing my hands together thinking ‘we are going to get a legitimate competition here, we will play everyone once and head into a finals series, you beauty’. It seems not to be the case.”
“The reason it annoys me is that this is presented as the female elite professional offering by the AFL, it has been lauded as that. Finally, there is an elite women’s competition.”
“But with the AFL presenting it as that, it comes with a level of expectation that everyone within the sport … we wear that expectation that this is going to be a professional, elite competition. In reality, this is a gimmicky tournament.”
Following the interview, AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan quickly responded by joining morning radio broadcaster Neil Mitchell on 3AW, where he said any proposal that reduces the number of games each team plays would not harm the integrity of the competition.
AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan talks AFLW on 3AW Mornings with Neil Mitchell. (03/08/18)
“If it was – and there’s no decision that’s been made – then there’s prelim finals and finals and there would be eight games over two months. The World Cup goes for four weeks. I don’t think anyone’s calling that Mickey Mouse,” Mr McLachlan said.
“It’s balancing all of those issues up. In an ideal world, everyone would play each other once. I understand that, but I’ve outlined as clearly as I can all the things that everyone is working through to try and get to the right outcome.”
The number of games to be played was a subject that was revisited on 3AW’s drive show, where Geelong AFLW player Erin Hoare told Tom Elliott that all teams should have the chance to play each other once.
“If you’re expanding the competition sides then you’d also expect to expand the competition length and get a chance to play all opposition teams,” Ms Hoare said.
“I think in order to make it sustainable long term we really need to invest in the opportunities, the amount of times to play at the highest level. There’s been a massive growth at community level and I hope that’s considered.”
On August 5, Daisy Pearce presented a four-point plan as her solution to the AFLW fixturing issue on Channel 7’s Game Day, where the Melbourne captain also addressed potential concerns about the commercial realities of the broadcasting business.
“I guess, don’t present a problem, come with a solution, so this my one. Start the season a little bit earlier, so a January 5 start, play nine home-and-away games and then the four-team finals system – so 1 versus 4, 2 versus 3 and a Grand Final the week after,” she said.
“So, the season runs for 11 weeks and the Grand Final lands the week before the AFL so you’re not going head-to-head with your own product. You do go up against the Australian Open and Big Bash at times, but with clever fixturing I think you can get around it.”
On August 6, after several days of increased scrutiny and mounting pressure on the AFL to ensure transparency and clear communication around any changes to AFLW in 2019, AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan appeared on Channel 7’s Talking Footy to address the matter again.
AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan talks AFLW on Channel 7’s Talking Footy. (06/08/18)
The appearance was, however, met with a question from one of the program’s panellists who asked the AFL boss whether he would take back his comment that compared AFLW to the World Cup, or if he was frustrated by “what seems like an overreaction”.
“No decision’s been made. We’re going through a long process. There’s a women’s competition committee looking at all the decisions for season three of the AFLW. They’re meeting again tomorrow night,” Mr McLachlan said.
“I know there’s a paper of fixtures that are different. They’re debating the length of the season and the right amount of games, when you start it for maximum impact to start the season strongly, working with broadcasters and others on what they want.”
“I know that most of the players and club want to finish, if they could, before the men’s season starts. I know, and I certainly agree that we should be playing a prelim final now we go to ten teams.”
“There are a number of different options. We’re still working through this. Daisy is a leader in our game and her opinion is incredibly important. We’ll hear from the players association directly in the coming days and all that will get weighed up.”
If one thing is for certain, Williamstown Football Club need to ensure its board member Michelle Redfern has priority access to bathroom facilities at all times, especially if the current conversations about the future of women’s football continues in the same vein.