The Sydney University Women’s AFL Club (SUWAFLC) has announced it will be fielding a second Division 1 team in 2017. The SUWALFC was one of the founding clubs of the Sydney Women’s AFL competition which began in 2000. Since then USyd’s ‘Bombers’ had only ever entered one team in the top division each year.
The expansion comes off the back of two grand final appearances in the last two years. The club’s president, Olivia Warren, says that “with the [AFL women’s league] starting up, this is the best time to do it”.
The national league involves eight teams with Sydney represented by the Greater Western Sydney Giants. Over a million people have tuned in each weekend to watch at least part of a match, and over the first weekend several thousand fans were turned away at gates when stadiums reached capacity.
The influence that the AFLW has had on the sport at a community level is clear. Many of the Bombers’ new recruits told Honi that their decision to join was sparked by the AFLW season’s free-to-air broadcast. The comprehensive media coverage has pushed women’s AFL into the public eye, and the Bombers, as well as other Sydney clubs are looking to capitalise on this growth.
Since the creation of Sydney Women’s AFL competition, the sport has changed dramatically. Founding member of the Bombers Meredith Gray recalls building goalposts from PVC piping and gaffer tape, and being met with utter confusion when trying to recruit women to play. Despite the challenges the league continued to flourish, with Gray crediting the “passionate, dedicated women who came together to make it happen”.
While many players only begin at university, a growing number of school programs are encouraging younger girls to take up the sport. It remains to be seen whether those programs will result in player retention and on-field performance but if the current sense of excitement continues, fans may be lucky enough to watch Women’s AFL expand well into the future.