AFL delays expansion of pro women’s league until 2022
Hawthorn, Essendon, Port Adelaide and Sydney Swans have expressed interest
Mayo footballer Sarah Rowe featured for the Collingwood Magpies in the AFLW this year. Photograph: Albert Perez/Getty Images
The Australian Football League (AFL) will delay expanding its professional women’s competition until 2022 but is committed to matching the 18 teams in the men’s game by 2024, the league said on Thursday.
AFLW, the women’s top flight of Australian Rules football, was set up with eight teams in 2017 and expanded to 14 in 2020 to tap into growing interest.
There were 14 Irish players signed up with AFLW clubs last season.
All 14 teams were set up by clubs in the 18-side men’s AFL competition, the country’s most popular winter sport. The four clubs without a women’s side - Hawthorn, Essendon, Port Adelaide and Sydney Swans - have expressed interest in fielding one but will not be able to for the 2022 season.
“In the short term, the AFL will work with the existing 14 AFLW clubs to ensure that when an 18-team competition occurs they will be in the best position to continue to grow and be competitive,” the AFL said in a statement.
“But we don’t feel that the competition is whole without all 18 clubs and we know from the clubs that they don’t feel whole now without an AFLW team,” AFL boss Gillon McLachlan added.
“AFLW is not just a competition that makes our game better but a culture that makes our whole industry better.”
The AFL has hailed the women’s competition as a success in building the game’s fan-base and driving participation.
However, an overlap with the start of the men’s league in March has stolen the AFLW’s thunder during its playoffs.
The AFL said the schedule for the AFLW 2022 season would be brought forward to December to give the women their own window.
The new season will increase from nine championship rounds to 10 before the three-week playoffs, with the title-deciding Grand Final to be held mid-March ahead of the opening round of the men’s AFL.
“This timing provides an ability to optimise the audience and coverage, particularly for the AFLW Finals Series,” the AFL said.