home AFLW, Aussie Rules, Op-Ed Criticism is important, but only the right kind

Criticism is important, but only the right kind

The footy topic in fashion this week has been criticism of the AFLW and how those comments need to be accepted before the competition can be considered truly elite. Many people will tell you that you simply cannot criticise the AFLW or you’ll be called sexist. And this week, there have been individuals in positions of power broadcasting shallow critiques fuelling unwarranted negativity from those same people online.

It was an article in the Herald Sun from chief football writer Mark Robinson that sparked the conversation. Robinson wrote an article about Richmond captain Katie Brennan. The sentiment behind the piece was valid and certainly an interesting topic worth exploring, but the execution—littered with factual inaccuracies and shallow analysis—left a lot to be desired. Many Katie Brennan fans (and ex-teammates) took exception to the piece, and the online response from those uninterested in women’s footy was outrage that “you can’t say anything bad about AFLW or you’ll get blocked!” or condescending advice to players.

Akec Makur Chuot and Sabrina Frederick on the bench during a Richmond VFLW game 2019.
Akec Makur Chuot and Sabrina Frederick on the bench during a Richmond VFLW game 2019. Image: Megan Brewer

Criticism of women’s footy is not new, in fact I can find no less than nine examples of reasonable critiques I wrote across round two alone. The focus is always on the footy, strategic choices, on field decision making or where individuals (or teams) need to improve. It’s always about things within the players’ or coaches’ control.

“Richmond’s decision making—while impacted by Gold Coast’s pressure—was woeful at times, often plucking out the sole 2v1 option up forward resulting in the ball immediately rebounding back out. This will no doubt improve as the team plays more footy together, but all the skill in the world can’t make up for poor choices on the field and should be the number one concern for those in the yellow and black.”

The Roundup: Round Two

The thing these negative ‘concerned citizens’ are missing is that not all critiques are warranted or constructive. There’s a huge difference between commenting on a poor passage of play and outright knocking women’s footy. What is unacceptable—and not criticism but abuse, if not bullying—is the endless negativity and misogynistic comments focused on women’s bodies, stereotypes about female athletes, mocking of low score lines and more.

The reality is, far from being a discussion about the AFLW and criticism, this conversation raises more questions about the quality of footy journalism we’re served up across both the women’s and men’s game—something we’ve certainly seen deteriorate rapidly in recent years. Factual errors and shallow analysis are things we’ve simply become used to because that’s far too often all we get. 

Related—The Play On Review: AFLW Round Two

“Most coaches would say that if their team doesn’t have the ball, they should be working hard to win it back through pressure and (that word again) tackling. A worrying sign for West Coast is that they were out gunned in terms of both disposals (155-159) and tackles (49-78). They might be an expansion team, but pressure and tackling is a basic skill they need to get right (see Gold Coast).”

The Roundup: Round Two

There’s nothing wrong with critiquing women’s footy. It’s how you go about it that matters. Talk about what’s happening on the field, make sure you’re aware of the limitations put on these players and—most importantly—if you’re comparing AFLW to the men’s game, understand the differences in the games themselves including length, rules, pathways and opportunities provided to the players. If you’re not prepared to do that, maybe just keep that negativity to yourself.

2 thoughts on “Criticism is important, but only the right kind

  1. Well said – constructive criticism improves the game – negativity only brings it down. It’s a shame that media’s goals are simplistically monetary – looking for sensationalism instead of having dual goals of selling and improving product so it perpetuates the former. The league is young and developing. I sincerely hope that the resilient support will help it through the barriers and handicaps put in it’s path. Stay strong ladies. The game we all know can be an excitement machine.

  2. Thanks Gemma, on one hand I am astounded that a piece of this tenor needs to be written at all and on the other it’s a fantastic piece, well structured and looking at the issue and giving really simple yet effective examples of how to do it right.

    Thank you and keep up the great coverage.

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