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The AFL owes women so much more

Daisy Pearce (far right) with fellow players and potential future stars at the launch of the AFL women’s league on Wednesday. Photo: Justin McManusThe AFL’s measly pay offer to female players fails women by ignoring everything they have done for the game.
Nanjing Night Net

Marquee and priority pick players in the first season of AFL Women’s – a handful at each club – will earn $25,000 and $10,000 respectively for playing, training and attending promotional events.

But if the AFL gets its way after negotiations with the players’ association, all of the women who heard their name called out on draft day this week will earn just $5000 for their first season of football in the national league.

A social media campaign has developed drawing attention to the league’s pay offer to its players, which looks unlikely to cover their boots or health insurance.

Politicians and TV personalities posted photographs of themselves shoeless online with the hashtag #bootsoff.

Taking their boots off is a great start, but if that fails to make headway, perhaps it is time for women to go on strike.

Next season, imagine if women stopped attending men’s matches – there’s about 45 per cent of the AFL’s crowds gone.

Imagine if women stopped volunteering their time at local football clubs.

Stopped umpiring, running water, keeping the score, serving in the canteen, coaching, team managing, cooking the barbecue, sitting on the committee, washing muddy shorts and jumpers, slicing oranges and offering lifts home.

Grassroots football runs on the unpaid labour of men and women who love the game and recognise the value of the sport to their families and communities. But until now it is only women who have been denied the opportunity to be the star of the show, to dream of kicking that winning goal in front of packed stands at the MCG.

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan deserves credit for his dedication to making a national women’s league a reality and bringing forward its start date from 2020 to 2017, but on the matter of pay, he’s wrong.

He recently justified the league’s low-ball offer to the players by pointing out the men’s competition is 150 years old, whereas the women’s is new and does not yet have any “commerciality.”

But why is that? Community attitudes to women playing contact sports have no doubt changed over the past century, but the AFL has hardly been a leader on the matter.

Western Bulldogs vice-president Susan Alberti, 69, has spoken about her love of football and her heartbreak at being forced to hang up her boots at 15 because there were no women’s teams for her to join. That women love playing football is nothing new. Passionate people have worked hard to give girls and women a chance to compete, but it is only recently the AFL itself has chosen to take it seriously.

The AFL will maintain that women footballers will not be expected to put in the same number of hours into training as the men, who earn an average of about $300,000 a season, but that’s a circular argument.

Girls dream of making a living from playing sport, just like boys do. Often they cannot because they are not paid enough for their work to survive without a supplementary income. The AFL has the opportunity to make its women players professionals, something not all sports can afford. If they are serious about competing for the country’s best talent they should take it.

Under Netball Australia’s new pay deal, players in the domestic competition earn a minimum wage of $27,370 and an average of $67,500. Members of the Australian women’s cricket team are paid a living wage and their best performers can earn a six-figure salary if they play in the national team and Big Bash. The NSW women’s cricket team will earn at least the minimum wage of $35,000 after a lucrative new sponsorship deal was announced this month.

The AFL would benefit from the higher quality of football the women will play if they can devote more time to the sport. It is a billion-dollar organisation, it can afford to make that investment.

Every woman playing in the AFL Women’s first season should, as a base rate, be paid the Australian minimum full-time wage for their training and playing period November to the end of March – which would amount to about $14,500.

The women’s boots and health insurance should be covered by the AFL – not taken out of their pay – and marquee and priority pick players’ salaries increased accordingly.

In the 2018 season, the players’ incomes should be supplemented by a share of sponsorship money. As Fairfax recently reported, Collingwood has businesses flocking to sponsor the ‘Pies women’s team. Although those within the football world have been reluctant to criticise, Magpie CEO Gary Pert conceded the AFL’s pay proposal was “long way from ideal”.

Better pay will give these athletes greater opportunity to devote the hours and energy needed to be their best and to showcase what female footballers can do when given the chance.

Women deserve much more than that from the AFL, but anything less is an insult.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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