Oh, Sydney Swans. You are my favourite team and I love you, but my goodness you make it hard sometimes.
Last week, you announced that you will not be bidding to host a team in the 2017 AFL National Women’s League. You said the club is “unable to provide the necessary infrastructure” to host a women’s team. You said the club is “committed to broadening female participation at all levels of AFL football.”
On the surface, your explanation makes sense. You do have limited facilities and resources and you have to choose how you allocate those. But unfortunately, under even the slightly scrutiny, your claim to be committed to women’s football just don’t hold up.
First of all, for the obvious question: why aren’t you ready? This isn’t exactly a lightening bolt from the blue: the AFL has been moving towards elite women’s participation for years. You have had time to make plans and get ready for this.
But even if there hadn’t been ample warning, if you truly value the participation of women in football, why weren’t you a leader on this? Other clubs, like the Western Bulldogs, Richmond Tigers and Melbourne Demons, have been out ahead on this issue, not just preparing for the introduction of elite women’s football, but pushing for it. They have invested time, money and energy in women’s football.
I understand that every club has limited resources, but that doesn’t mean the allocation of those resources is beyond scrutiny. Clubs with far fewer resources than the Swans are making bids. You have chosen to allocate resources to men’s football above women’s. That is the choice a club absolutely can make. It is also a choice in which supporters can be disappointed.
(Though I can’t help but notice you were able to pounce on the opportunity to develop the Swans Academy at short notice. Amazing the resources one can discover when one wants to…)
Even if you just genuinely couldn’t get ready in time, where is the commitment to women’s football you profess, beyond words on a page? The announcement that you weren’t going to be bidding for a women’s team could have been softened by some action that genuinely illustrated that support, beyond vague plans for “at some point in the future”.
How about announcing that you were recruiting a director of women’s football, to put plans in place? How about adding a girls’ stream to the Swans Academy, so you can actively train young female athletes so they’ll be ready when the Swans do eventually get a team? How about announcing that you’re developing and implementing a gender inclusiveness policy? Or that you’re going to actively take on female coaching and conditioning staff. With 39 employees in your current football staff, and only three of them women, none of whom are in coaching roles, that would be a great way to build your resources for when the women’s league finally arrives.
The Swans have continually lagged on gender equality. Across the club, you have 92 employees, and only 30 of them are women. That’s less than a third. Only one of your ten board members is female. You can say you’re committed to women’s involvement in football, but I’m afraid the numbers just don’t back you up.
So when you announced on Friday that you’re not bidding for a women’s team, I was more disappointed than surprised. The club has never demonstrated any significant commitment to gender diversity in football. This is just the latest decision that reflects that ongoing lack of commitment.
I’m three months pregnant with my first child and my partner is a Richmond Tigers supporter. We’ve been half-jokingly debating which club our child will go for. But with yesterday’s announcement, you’ve given him a trump card. He can now say “But Richmond will have a women’s team” (or at least that they actively tried to get one). And as much as I hate the thought of raising a yellow-and-black baby, I just can’t argue with that.
Disclaimer: Erin Riley was a Sydney Swans employee between 2008 and 2009. She has not had any ongoing relationship with the club, except as a fan, since that point.