Women's Australian rules football (also known as Women's Aussie Rules, Women's footy, Women's AFL or in areas where it is popular, simply football) is a fast growing sport played at senior level in Australia, United States, England, New Zealand, Canada and Japan. At junior level, it is also played in Papua New Guinea, Argentina and South Africa. At a schoolgirls level it is also played in Tonga and Samoa.
Although it is a contact sport, women's Australian rules is sometimes played with modified rules for women from the men's game. It is less brutal on the body than Women's American football, Women's rugby league or women's rugby union and offers more physicality than Women's soccer, as well as requiring both hand and foot co-ordination. It is a fast-paced team sport and is played by women of all shapes and sizes.
Australian rules football had been played by men for almost half a century before the first women's football matches were played.
Records exist of a football side in Perth, Western Australia playing under the name of Foy & Gibson's as early as 1917. Matches played in Western Australia were also recorded in 1918.
Public attitudes and sexism generally prevented women from participating in organised football. However both world wars were are great liberator for women, as the men fought in the war, women were often called to perform a lot of the hard work typically done by men and this included spectator sports.
It was appropriate that following World War I, an exhibition match in Melbourne was held to show that women could play what had previously been seen to be a man's sport. The first women's match attracted a large crowd and interest. The umpire wore a dress.
Beyond this and occasional matches over the years, women's football was rarely organised.
Women's football was organised with the formation of the Victorian Women's Football League in 1981 with four teams competing at open level.
It was in 2000 that the sport began to rapidly grow, with the number of registered teams increasing by a phenomenal 450%.
In 2005, the VWFL celebrated it’s 25th anniversary.
There are now about 120 teams in the world. Australian rules football is becoming more and more popular with women and girls, particularly young women. In 2006, 22 years was the average age of players in the VWFL.
The first ever full international was held between the USA Freedom and Team Canada in Vancouver on Saturday 4th August, 2007 in front of a crowd of almost 2,500.
The main rule differences in Women's Footy as opposed to Australian rules football involves modified tackling rules. Typically aggressive slinging (swinging a player by the jumper or throwing the player to the ground) of oppositions players in a tackle is not allowed. Like the men's game, head high contact is strictly not allowed.
Another main difference is the size of the ball. A smaller ball to the men's version is often used to minimise hand injuries when catching (marking) the ball.
At present, all state competitions are amateur and state representative teams compete in the AFL National Women's Championships. A professional national competition is scheduled to debut in 2013 with eight teams.
In Australia, a total of 18,609 girls and women played Australian rules football in 2005 and in 2006 48,054 women paid the sport in Australia , and it is one of the fastest growing sports among women in Australia.
Football is not played with modified tackling rules; the same rules as men's football apply. The only differences to the men's game are shorter quarters and a slightly smaller ball is used.
In 1998, Auskick, a national program began. The program was designed to introduce the game to primary school aged children. By 2006, it had over 140,000 participants each year. Though the program was never specifically aimed at girls, the safe non-contact environment proved popular and in 2007 about 16% (12%) in of all Auskick participants were female.
A U17 Youth Girls Competition was established by Football Victoria in 2004. This was following legal action taken against them in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (following a complaint to the Equal Opportunity Commission) by Penny Cula-Reid, Emily Stayner, and Helen Taylor. The three schoolgirls were banned from playing in junior leagues, with fears of expensive insurance liability in case of injury and "medical reasons" being cited by Football Victoria (i.e. the physical differences between the bodies of boys and girls). The court found in favour of the girls in February 2004. In response to the ruling, the U17 Youth Girls Competition began in May, with 122 girls participating.
In total by 2006, there are about 120 women's Australian rules football clubs in Australia.
In 2007, Natasha Puatjimi, a 13-year-old from the Tiwi Islands made history becoming the first girl to win a junior league best & fairest. She was crowned best and fairest player in the Yarra Junior Football League's under 13 (blue) division for her dazzling displays for Ivanhoe. After her win, she was invited to train with legendary Kevin Sheedy and the Essendon Bombers. Another junior, Alicia Eva, has also been profiled in the media for excelling in mixed competition after having tied in the league best and fairest and playing in three premiership sides.
In 2008, after being refused an age exemption to play another year with the boys in the under-14s (as there was no under-15 team), 14 year old Evelyn Rannstrom was granted an injunction from VCAT against the Dandenong Ranges Junior Football League and the AFL allowing Evelyn to play for the rest of the season.
The national team is known as the "Kangaroos" and will compete against the USA Freedom, the Canadian Eagles and the Papua New Guinea Kurakums in the 2008 Australian Football International Cup in Melbourne.
Women's football in Victoria has a comparatively high profile in the media. The work done by League president Debbie Lee and Media Manager Leesa Catto as well as involvement by celebrities such as Tiffany Cherry have helped to boost exposure for the sport. The VWFL Grand Final is now played in front of a crowd exceeding 1,500 people. The annual Vic Country vs Vic Metro match has been now played as a curtain raiser to a home and away Australian Football League match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. VWFL players have participated in charity matches against senior male players in both the AFL Legends Game (which is broadcast on television in multiple states and live in Victoria) and Community Cup.
The VWFL is an open age Women's Footy competition which began in 1981 with four teams. In the following decades it has grown substantially and now features 3 division structure and as well as many clubs fielding teams in the reserve grades for the first and second division. In 2004 the League affiliated with Football Victoria. In 2005 there were 24 teams (from 20 clubs) in total, with over 800 women taking part.
Football Victoria has promoted the sport to high school girls in 2004 as part of the Youth Girls Competition, leading to leading to nearly 12,000 high school girls taking part in Australian Rules as a school sport.
Victoria fields both senior and under 19 in the AFL Women's National championships and have been the dominant state, with the two teams combined having won every one of the 15 national titles.
In 2006, there were 9 clubs, centred around metropolitan Perth.
At junior level there are Auskick programs in Western Australia and girl but as yet no youth league.
In 2006, there were 4 clubs, centred around metropolitan Adelaide.
South Australia are currently working with the SANFL's Affiliated Junior District Leagues to establish a Youth Girls competition due to commence 2008.
As yet, there is no junior league, although there are Auskick programs in place.
North Cairns are the dominant team, winning grand finals in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007.
Modified tackling rules were dropped in 2006.Governing body The governing body is the Women's Australian Football Association.National Team The national team, formed to compete against Canada, is known as the USA Freedom.Clubs Current women's teams are:
The USAFL National Championships incorporated a Women's Division for the first time in 2005. The Atlanta Lady Kookaburras won the inaugural Women's Division.
North Delta Junior Australian Football League formed in 2003
The national team is known as the "Eagles" and they have competed against the USA freedom.
The first ever full international was held between the USA "Freedom" and Team Canada in Vancouver on Saturday 4th August, 2007.
The US national women's team have plans to send a women's team to Australia for the 2008 Australian Football International Cup, although it is unclear as to whether the AFL plans a women's division and what teams may compete.
Papua New Guinea's national team, the "Kurakums" competes in the AFL Womens National Championships championships.
There are 51,504 players worldwide of which 3450 players are from leagues outside Australia
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Games of International Rules are also played by many women's leagues against Gaelic Athletic Association clubs. Recreational Football, a fully non-contact version of Australian rules football is also becoming popular amongst women in Australia and the United States. Many women's leagues also fall into the emerging 9-a-side footy or Metro footy format.