Women are vital to footy’s success

I’ve watched The Footy Show since its inception. Now in its 23rd year, it has been a welcome source of entertainment for its fans and a frustrating example of trash television for its detractors. Whatever your view, The Footy Show is a proven stayer.

The news that former newsreader Rebecca Maddern will arrive as co-host of the show is as welcome as it is refreshing. Maddern is no stranger to the game with some having described her as a walking encyclopedia on AFL. She is also the number one ticket holder at the Geelong Football Club. As a fellow Cats fan, I have no problems at all with the continued Geelong dominance on the panel since she joins Sam and Bill to make a neat trifecta.

Although it seems my enthusiasm for Maddern’s appointment is not shared by all. As reported by The Age, many fans of the show, both male and female, are incensed at what they see as some sort of play at political correctness. One woman wrote: woman said: “What a load of crap. I enjoy the schoolboy humour. Sick of the gender equalising based on political correctness rather than actual need. Watch the ratings go down.”

Another, this one a male: “There are some jobs in life that women don’t belong in … AFL footy is one of them.”

This is before Maddern has even been given a chance. There’s two problems here, and each comes from completely different places.

The first problem is the obvious one – the perception that football be confined to a boys’ club and that women dare not intrude. Fact is, 45 percent of the Footy Show’s viewing audience is women. Women make up more than 40 percent of AFL club membership, and thousands are employed by football clubs across the country. Any comment contending that women have no place in football is completely ignorant.

Similar attitudes were expressed when match caller Kelly Underwood took to the microphone for Channel Seven to commentate AFL matches. Deemed a social experiment at the time, the fan reaction seemed enough for Seven to shift Underwood’s role.

Sidelining women from the game rather than encouraging involvement is detrimental to its future. If blokes really want footy to be confined to a boys’ club, then perhaps they should not expect local female volunteers to help in the canteens, to provide training services, or to drive their sons to training and matches.

The AFL are well aware of the importance of diversifying the game’s appeal to include women. Hence the growth of the AFL Women’s League and the Mother’s Day round. Appointments such as Maddern’s help to complement the League’s push and they should be applauded rather than demonised.

That said, the second problem sits with the perception that this is a move in the interests of political correctness. Immediately, Maddern’s appointment will be viewed by many as one of tokenism rather than one of merit. Unfortunately, due to wider society’s push for affirmative action around workplaces in the community in order to close the gap and break the glass ceiling, there is often suspicion over the appointment of women in sort-after positions.

This is the unfortunate byproduct of social engineering. Moves to create gender balance and quotas actually breeds sexism in the community rather than discourage it. It fosters resentment and suspicion rather than credit and recognition. While fans of the show making lewd comments should rightly be admonished for their attitude, it also needs to be acknowledged that affirmative action is damaging the very people it intends to help.

There is absolutely nothing to suggest that Maddern’s appointment was based on anything but merit. She is an accomplished sports journalist, a passionate fan of the game and a talented media presenter. Sam Newman, of all people, put it nicely: “We thought ‘we have to be careful this doesn’t look like tokenism’ but when the right person came available, it was unanimously agreed that this would be a great thing to do.”

Well done to Channel Nine and The Footy Show on a surprising but refreshing decision. It’s important that outdated and ignorant attitudes don’t dictate the direction of our great game. Talent, skill, hard work and determination have always been the prerequisites to success in the football world. When Maddern joins the panel, she will not be ‘doing it for women’, she’ll be doing it for herself. And that’s the way it should be.

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