Face in the crowd: AFL boss Gillon McLachlan at the AFLW season opener Photo: AFL MediaFor all his last-ditch attempts to manage expectations around the national launch of women’s football, it seems that Gillon McLachlan and his team have created a monster with the birth of AFL Women’s.
Nanjing Night Net

Now it is the job of the competition to keep pace with its rampant new golden child. Not to mention protect it and the hundreds of new female players and staff who have thrown so much eagerness and enthusiasm in the journey to Friday night’s creation. So it is a pity, at a time that eight league clubs have welcomed gender diversity to its training, staff and dressing rooms, that the AFL has not prioritised the creation of a new competition framework to care for its new female population.

This is not a criticism of the clubs or any suggestion that unsavoury incidents have occurred but surely it is an indictment on the AFL that it has failed to even start its pledged review of the now antiquated respect and responsibility policy.

It is 13 months since McLachlan announced a review of the industry’s so-called policy created to deal with the treatment of women. All the indications then were that the decade-old framework would be redesigned and put in place during the 2016 season.

Just as the original policy was born out of a scandal involving sexual assault allegations levelled at two St Kilda footballers, the review announcement followed the accusations that Richmond’s Dustin Martin had threatened a woman in a Windsor restaurant.

The St Kilda issue proved to be significantly more serious and punctuated the game’s landscape for far longer than it should have due to some poor handling at police level. But on both occasions the AFL grappled with the complexities involved.

Clearly Andrew Demetriou’s call back in 2005 for any woman believing she had been mistreated to come forward to head office is now worryingly outdated.

The AFL has shown it is not equipped and perhaps nor should it be to deal with such incidents.

The competition excels at staging football games and showed over the weekend what it can deliver when it combines a brilliant mix of showmanship, game development and the passion of its office-bearers. But it continues to struggle where social policy is concerned and yet this is an area in which McLachlan and his team have been pressured to and promised to deliver.

An independent body in place to deal with victims of harassment, discrimination and worse should have been established long before now.

Kate Jenkins, the Australian Sex Discrimination commissioner and Carlton director who moved last year from heading the Victorian to national human rights body, was named as the chair of that review 13 months ago.

But still the review has not started despite the establishment of a working party back then.

Now the AFL’s newest executive Tanya Hosch – the general manager of inclusion and social policy – has been given direction of the issue, which has clearly challenged the AFL. Hosch has added a senior Indigenous woman to the committee, which also includes former Victorian police chief Ken Lay.

They have undertaken to complete the review by June and blamed a variety of personnel changes at several levels.

Said McLachlan back in January 2016: ” … it is very timely to have it reviewed. We understand our responsibilities to continue to improve our approach to these issues, and I know we still have work to do to hold the respect and trust of the community. We want to continue to change the culture of our game.”

It is commendable that McLachlan has fast-tracked that cultural change by bringing forward the launch of the national women’s league. But the AFL has dragged its feet in creating the suitable structures around that competition should support and protection be required for its new and estimable female community.

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