Could latest COVID scares stop the AFLW season?
The AFL will play its first women's practice matches in closed stadiums this weekend as it continues to grapple with ongoing COVID restrictions.
With the season starting in little more than two weeks, the league has been sweating on state governments to ease border restrictions.
The AFL has confirmed that a series of all-important practice matches will go ahead this weekend to give the players their first proper hit-outs.
But details of which club is playing which - and more importantly, where - are still being finalised.
This weekend's schedule is expected to be announced in the coming days.
The AFL did confirm that practice matches would be closed sessions to ensure the safety of both players and the community.
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It comes as the Victorian government reopened its border to regional New South Wales, which would have been music to the ears of Greater Western Sydney, with their players currently camped in regional Albury, near the border with Victoria.
The Giants relocated out of Sydney on New Year's Day at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak on the Northern Beaches, hoping to satisfy then-in-place government requirements to enter Victoria and then travel onto to Perth for their Round 1 clash against Fremantle, but that initial plan was complicated by a series of border closures, including WA imposing a hard border with Victoria.
The Giants, who have spent almost two weeks in Albury training as per a usual pre-season schedule, will hold a final training session in the regional town on Thursday and are then planning to travel to their next location on Friday.
But they are still awaiting advice from the AFL as to where that will be and it will be dependant on which team they will play on the weekend.
They could potentially head to either the Gold Coast or Melbourne, but Canberra is also on the cards.
The AFL has reiterated its absolute commitment to playing the 2021 AFLW season in full and is following all government advice to ensure that happens.
WHY I'D PAY $10 TO GO TO AN AFLW GAME
In 2021, for the first time in AFLW history, all games will be ticketed for women's AFL matches.
Previously, only select games - usually double-headers played as curtain-raisers to AFL games - charged entry fees.
Otherwise, the games were free to attend, including the 2019 AFLW Grand Final when 53,034 spectators crammed into the Adelaide Oval to watch the Crows beat Carlton by 45 points and in the process set a new Australian record for the highest attendance at a stand-alone women's sporting event. (That record has since been broken when 86,174 fans attended the T20 World Cup final between Australia and India at the MCG on March 8, 2020).
In 2021, entry to all AFLW games will be $10 for adults, with those under 18 allowed into matches for free.
The AFL says the introduction of ticketing will allow crowds to attend in a COVID-safe environment.
"We are proud the 2021 season will see all matches ticketed, we have listened to supporters of women's football who continue to indicate a willingness to pay to attend AFLW matches and support the growth of the competition," women's footy boss Nicole Livingstone said about the move.
So ahead of the season scheduled to start on January 28 with Carlton taking on Collingwood at Ikon Park, we ask well-known Australians: Why would you pay $10 to go to an AFLW game?:
Australian cricketer, No. 2 bowler in the world:
"I'm happy to pay the equivalent of two coffees to watch entertaining, passionate football. These talented athletes are paid next to nothing, so if putting a small price on tickets helps the game continue to grow, we should all support that."
Western Bulldogs player, 2020 AFLW Rising Star:
"I'd pay more than $10 because there's such an incredible atmosphere at games, and it's only going to get better and that is worthy of it being ticketed in my eyes. Also, I think paying and having ticketed games helps support the athletes and the women of the AFLW who sacrifice so much and put so much on the line to go out there and play, it's the least that can happen from a ticketing standpoint, to contribute back to the game. A lot of fans have been asking for many years now to actually be able to financially contribute, so I think it's really great in that sense and it's a great step forward to an equitable competition and reflecting what leagues around the world do."
Australian Women's Cricket Team captain:
"I would pay $10 to go and see an AFLW game so that I can watch a former teammate of mine, Emma Kearney, dominate in the midfield for North Melbourne. A tough competitor on the field who goes hard at the ball and that's something all sports fans should see live!"
AFL premiership winner, SEN breakfast radio presenter, media commentator:
"I'd pay $10 to watch an AFLW game to witness the fierce contests and elite tackling that has fast become a cornerstone of the young league. These athletes play with a passion and enthusiasm that is infectious to watch live."
"Absolutely. It's a small price to pay to widen the reach and resources of the sport and acknowledge excellence."
Hawthorn VFLW head coach, 2017's inaugural AFLW premiership-winning coach:
"Because $10 is bigger than football. That $10 gives me the opportunity to make our female athletes feel valued and show the broader community that gender is no reason for "free".
"As long as we allow businesses, including sport, to treat our mothers, sisters or daughters as lower value for doing exactly the same job as men, then we're encouraging a culture where women are more likely to be ignored or overlooked - $10 is just the beginning and an absolute steal to watch superstars like Erin Phillips, Chelsea Randall and Eb Marinoff in action."
Crows AFL captain:
"Because I love footy. And I love watching the women play. The AFLW is so good for our game and for women's sport in general. My sister, Shae, played footy when she was younger but had to stop because there was no competition for her to play in anymore. She's now converted from volleyball to football (and plays for Melbourne). I just love watching footy, so that's why I'd pay $10. Or $15. Or $20!"
Weather presenter on Chanel 7's Sunrise:
"I'd be happy to pay a minimum of $10 to see a game of AFLW. Firstly, because the games are top notch. Secondly, because I think they deserve to be paid far more than they currently are given the training and commitment involved. Ps: Go Crows!"
Former Australian Diamonds coach:
"To watch our elite women Australian Rules footballers in action up close and personal is worth every cent of a $10 ticket. This ensures we are seriously valuing the game, its competitiveness and the skill and efforts of the athletes and coaches."
Originally published as Could latest COVID scares stop the AFLW season?