The recent success of the AFLW competition has strengthened women’s participation numbers in sport. Now, with the introduction of the ThisGirlCan campaign in Victoria, the numbers are set to rise even higher.
ThisGirlCan campaign saw immediate success when it was rolled out in England in 2015, witnessing an increase in the amount of women involved in sport and regular physical activity by 250,000.
Now, in Victoria, a state where one in five women don’t do enough physical activity, Vic Health is hoping to see the same results with their own version of the campaign.
One sport that has seen a rapid increase in participation all over Australia is, of course, women’s AFL.
In 2016, before the AFLW competition was introduced, statistics showed that there were 380,041 female AFL program and competition participants and 983 dedicated female football teams around the country. This made up 27 percent of all participants in the sport.
When the AFLW competition was introduced at the start of the 2017 season, the round one match between the Carlton Blues and Collingwood Magpies reached a national TV audience of close to 900,000 people.
The competition sustained consistent audience numbers and by the end of the season, the competition was undoubtedly a success.
Fast-forward to November 2017 and women made up 30 percent of all AFL participants. There were also 1,690 more dedicated female AFL teams from the year before.
After following the competition, Allice Bennett, 27, an Australian footballer living in England, was inspired to get back involved in the sport.
Bennett registered with the South-East London Giants, one of the nine teams spread across two competitions in London. In her short time at the club, Bennett has noticed the increased participation numbers.
“Our club is growing year on year and we’ve had no problems with recruitment,” she told upstart.
Previously, Bennett found it difficult to get involved due to the lack of competitions available and opportunities to play.
“When I was about 13 years old, I went through a phase of wanting to play footy, but I wanted to play with the boys and there wasn’t the opportunity to do that,” she said.
“In Year 12, my school introduced an AFL team to play against other schools, but the intake was low, so we didn’t get to play many games.
“I’ve never really had a proper opportunity to give it a crack.”
Melissa Backhouse, Principle Program Officer from VicHealth, says the Australian version of the This GirlCan campaign focuses on supporting and empowering women to be active without worrying about judgement, gender stereotypes or skill level.
“Women worry more than men about being judged when exercising and they’re twice as likely in worrying about being unfit, a beginner or not being unable to keep up,” she told upstart.
Backhouse was able to witness the growth of women’s football firsthand after spending 16 years involved in local football club.
“The local club that I was involved with went from having 30 girls the year before the AFLW came out, to having 100 on the books the year after,” she said.
“That’s incredible, I’ve been involved for 16 years and I’ve never seen the growth of one team that quickly in one year.”
Now she wants to see the same growth across a number of sports.
“We have participation opportunities for women that we are developing in conjunction with a number of sporting organisations, to help make environments more welcoming to women,” Backhouse said.
“We want to see the campaign inspire local women to smash old fashion stereotypes about what women can and can’t do in sport, in the gym and neighbourhoods.”
Scott Dougan is a 1st year Media and Communications (Sports Journalism) student. You can follow him on Twitter @scottkdougan