Women the face of football – for NRL, not AFL
The Age, News, 7/02/2017, picture by Justin McManus. AFLW and Auskick clinic at the MCG. AFLW player Meg Downie (Demons) gives Hayley Tan some kicking lessons while Ali Brown (Carlton) teaches the art of the screamer. Photo: Justin McManusThe launch of the 2017 season on Foxtel’s dedicated football channel last week was a sight to behold. Not only has Fox Footy launched an all-woman prime-time panel program but it emerged that over every home-and-away round this season, women presenters will host at least five matches and feature on every day of the game’s coverage.
If this sounds like an early April Fool’s gag then it’s not. It is true that women have become the face of the Fox Footy channel but the punchline is that the trailblazing code in media gender terms is not the AFL but the NRL.
The AFL has successfully launched a national women’s competition and boasts leaders who have indicated they will work to redraw the boundaries of the game’s boys’ club. But n rules has fallen well behind the NRL in terms of its media coverage and certainly its pay TV broadcaster.
This is galling for the national game, one that boasted significant proportions of female supporters dating back to the 19th century and significantly more still in relative terms to the NRL. In the years since it first grappled with its problematic respect and responsibility policy, the AFL’s leaders have long scoffed at the so-called Neanderthal nature of the lads in rugby league.
The AFL version of Fox Footy held its media launch last week and could not provide Fairfax Media with a current team photograph. The one featured here from 2016 boasts two women – Sarah Jones and Neroli Meadows. Jones is now absent on maternity leave and only journalist and host Meadows remains among the sea of an albeit well-credentialled otherwise all-male cast.
Every male executive in power at the network for the past five years has been saying they are aware of the problem and are working to redress it. But nothing has changed. It is anathema to the women who work in the football industry that Fox has been unable to go any way to redressing a balance it has been vowing to do for years.
Of all the women who have featured on the channel’s AFL Women’s coverage not one has been contracted for any further role of Fox Footy this season. While it must be said that the multi-talented Kelli Underwood has significant commitments elsewhere and that the network is hopeful Jones will return to a hosting role during the season it is embarrassing that only the capable Meadows will appear in any role over round one.
Last Thursday night’s NRL season-opener saw Yvonne Sampson as the face of the new football year presenting the Sharks’ clash with the Broncos.
Sampson, poached from the Nine Network for the new channel launched as part of the new NRL media deal, also hosts two Saturday games and the prime-time Wednesday night panel program League Life ??? also featuring Lara Pitt, Hannah Hollis and Jessica Yates.
Megan Barnard and Tara Rushton work as match-day reporters on the NRL channel while Yates also hosts two games on Fox Footy’s Sunday coverage.
League Life outrated all the other NRL programs last week including NRL 360. “That’s a pretty heavy topic,” commented Fox Sports boss Steve Crawley to Sampson last week when she told him she was opening the first program with a segment on depression. “It’s a pretty heavy show,” Sampson responded.
Crawley insisted the gender balance on the new NRL channel had been organic and in no way tokenistic. The recently appointed head of television at Fox Sports did admit to some concerns where the all-male program line-up at the Melbourne-based Fox Footy AFL channel was concerned.
“We’re aware we need to make some changes and we need to move with the times,” Crawley said. “We’re not going to rush this and it’s not panic stations. We are looking forward to Sarah coming back and we are determined to look for some new faces.” Whether Crawley will take the trouble to tackle the blokey AFL TV network remains his challenge. No one is suggesting he stage a women’s revolution at Fox Footy. As management changes have taken place over the past few years at the station the bully-boy treatment of staff and the insidious culture of fear are practices of the past.
But one woman in the entire on-air stable? International Women’s Day seems as good a day as any to point out that the TV face of n rules football has fallen well behind the NRL version in terms of diversity and that is disappointing.