Breaking down the 2017 women’s footy participation figures

Figures released by the Australian Football League suggest that almost four per cent of the nation’s female population (one in every 26) have participated in an Aussie Rules related program or competition this year.

463,364 females took part in either organised community leagues, school competitions, AFL9’s, footy clinics or Auskick.


The number provided by the AFL did not specify if the league’s branded fitness program (AFL Active) was also incorporated into these numbers.

Females now make up 30 per cent of all participants in Aussie Rules across the country following a 76 per cent increase in organised teams, taking the number of dedicated female teams to almost 1,700 nationwide.

As expected, Victoria leads with way for female participation with 108,021, representing almost a quarter of the nationwide total.

The state also saw female teams more than double (110 per cent), taking the number of female dedicated club teams to 747.

2017 saw massive change in the state for female football, with the controversial closing down of the Victorian Women’s Football League and (new and old) female teams having to find homes in the male dominated community leagues.

The Victorian Amateur Football Association was the clear stand-out performer, starting with a base of four ex-VWFL clubs and optimistic hopes of having 20 teams.

The VAFA would end up officially having five senior women’s divisions, plus an unofficial ‘scratch match’ division of six teams for clubs with an overflow of numbers.

About 1,900 registered as players in the VAFA this year.

Melbourne University (VFLW/NFL/VAFA) fielded the most senior women’s teams with five, while the VU Western Spurs (VFLW/NFL/EDFL-WRFL) and Seaford Tigerettes (VFLW/AFL South East) would both grow to fielding four senior women’s teams.

Big change was also on the cards for Tasmania, beginning the year with a new and smaller statewide Tasmania Women’s League. The league saw the five female teams aligned with TSL men’s clubs remain, while the remaining two teams dropped down to one of the three newly formed women’s regional leagues.

Nearly 11,000 females across the state participated in an Aussie Rules related programs or competitions, a 28 per cent increase on last year, with 62 dedicated female teams.

The Adelaide Crows’ AFLW premiership saw a footy boost in South Australia, with a 53 per cent upswing in female participation at club level, and a 22 per cent increase in the number of girls involved in Auskick.

A restructure in SA women’s footy also occurred this year with the creation of the new summer/autumn SANFL Women’s competition, with the former SAWFL now going under the branding of the Adelaide Footy League and restrictions introduced on the number of AFLW listed players that can play for any club on one day.

Organised women’s community football also took off in the south-east of the state, with moves being made to grow the female game in other regional areas.

Further north, AFLNT has announced that more than 15,000 females have participated in Aussie Rules related programs or competitions in the Northern Territory, representing 34.3 per cent of all participation in the Territory.

The number of women and girls that played in regular club competition in the NT was 1,847.

This year also saw the creation of a new winter competition in Darwin (opposed to the traditionally summer league) to keep elite female footbllers on the same development timeline as those in the other states.

Near the end of the year, it was also announced that the Northern Territory Thunder will field a side in the Victorian Football League Women’s competition.

A 16 per cent increase has seen female participation top 100,000 in the combined Queensland and Northern Rivers of NSW figures, representing almost 40 per cent of all participants for that region.

Female Auskick participants grew by four per cent to 8,526; while there are now 70 new female community club teams, up 39 per cent on last year, the most important growth coming in the QWAFL, with the introduction of a team from the Sunshine Coast (Maroochydore Kangaroos).

Although being responsible for more than 20 per cent of all female participation nationwide, the state currently only has one AFLW side (Brisbane Lions); that will change with the announcement a few months ago that the Gold Coast Suns will join AFLW in 2020.

Queensland’s participation figures hint at a forthcoming headache for the AFL, as in 2020 (under the current state based draft pools) a female in Queensland would have a 1 in 1,680 chance of being drafted, while a female in Victoria would have a 1 in 450 chance, due to Victoria having eight AFLW teams and Queensland only two, despite also having the same number of female participants in Victoria.

Western Australia saw a 28 per cent increase in female participation numbers, taking the total to 92,761. There are now 214 dedicated female teams, resulting in a 36 per cent growth.

All WAWFL clubs now field League, Reserves and Rogers Cup teams, and with the Coastal Titans to be renamed as/aligned with Subiaco, it sees all WAWFL clubs aligned to the men’s WAFL clubs.

Most WAWFL clubs reported in excess of 100 women training with their clubs, and such demand saw the West Australian Football Commission (with the help of the WAAFL) start a new community carnival-type competition/league during the middle of the year.

Women’s football also grew in the regions, particularly in the state’s south-west around Bunbury.

Finally, New South Wales and the ACT saw a big upswing in female club football participation, with a 78 per cent increase. The most exciting growth came in the regions, with a new female competition in the north-west of the state, adding to those already established in the Central West, Far West, South Coast, Canberra/Riverina and Newcastle/Hunter/Central Coast.

The latter mentioned region’s female league (Black Diamond AFL) has become so successful, that there are enough female numbers to start up a second club in Newcastle City, where as the men only had enough for one club.

On the International scene, the AFL has not released specific female numbers, only an overall figure of 170,744 (male and female) participating in Aussie Rules related programs or competitions.

Based on the figure that 30 per cent of all participants involved in Aussie Rules across Australia are female, it would be fair to assume to that would translate to approximately 51,000 females participating outside of the game’s home country.

This year saw an increase for international female participation at both community and national team level. The 2017 AFL International Cup saw seven nations send a female national team (up from five in 2014), with the European nations sending a combined team (the Crusaders).

In the United Kingdom, the AFL London Women’s League doubled in size from four teams to eight, seeing the creation of two divisions. The biggest club growth was at the Wandsworth Demons, growing to two women’s teams.

Come and try days were also established in Wales, resulting in the Welsh sending a number of players to team up with Denmark for the AFL Euro Cup in France. Last month also saw the creation of a ‘Super 7s’ competition in Ireland, the ARLI Women’s, with eight teams participating in the tournament.

Across the Atlantic, the USAFL continued its rapid growth in the female game, with more than 400 women playing at least one game this year, while an amazing 273 attended the USAFL Nationals in San Diego in October, with representatives from a record 19 clubs.

For the first time ever, Division One featured eight standalone sides, split into two pools of four, while Division Two also grew to have five combined sides.

The most impressive club growth coming from the Seattle Grizzlies, who grew from just two players early last year, to sending 21 to the Nationals this year, including coming from the tournament with their first ever victory in Division One.

The only disappointing number for the female game outside of Australia was a net gain of zero for non-Australian citizens drafted into the AFLW, with Canadian recruit Kenda Heil delisted from Collingwood due to her knee injury and Irish champion Cora Staunton added to GWS’s list.

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