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Football codes realise they ignore women at their peril -

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LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: On the field and off, the nation's footy codes have come to a shared realisation: embrace women or risk irrelevance.

The future of the AFL and rugby league relies on recruiting women, so it's perhaps no surprise that we're seeing interest surge around the relationship between women and those sports.

The NRL is considering a lifetime ban for players found guilty of domestic violence, while the AFL has been displaying its zero-tolerance policy on inappropriate conduct in the workplace.

Is this all just public relations? Or is it a sign that the country's most beloved codes are actually becoming more inclusive?

Tracey Holmes reports.

TRACY HOLMES, REPORTER: This is a story about two cities, two codes, with one pursuit: the growth of their game. And the focus is women.

GILLON MCLACHLAN, CEO, AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE (14 Jul.): The AFL that I want to lead is a professional organisation based on integrity, respect, care for each other, and responsibility.

TODD GREENBERG, CEO, NATIONAL RUGBY LEAGUE (17 Jul.): It's a privilege to run out, to represent your team or your state or your country. It's not a right for any of us. And so when you make poor decisions and women are involved, we are going to have big consequences.

GILLON MCLACHLAN (14 Jul.): We will continue to make change, because it's a journey and we're not where we want to be yet.

(Footage of training session)

COACH, SYDNEY UNIVERSITY WOMEN'S AFL TEAM: OK, guys. So we're starting with two laps, yeah. Let's go.


OLIVIA WARREN, PRESIDENT, SYDNEY UNIVERSITY WOMEN'S AFL: What the AFL has done with the AFLW has been an enormous success. And I think all the other sports such as rugby union, rugby league, rugby sevens are all lagging behind.

The AFL has done really great to get behind it, but I still think there's more work to be done as well.

TRACY HOLMES: This is Sydney University's most successful AFL team. They have been in six consecutive grand finals but have never been allowed to train on the number one oval - until this year.

The launch of the AFL's national women's competition changed all that.

(To Olivia Warren) With that huge growth and this past season, is there a different level of respect from the men that play the game here?

OLIVIA WARREN: One hundred per cent. I think now we have a seat at the table. We, you know, weren't training on (Sydney University) oval one before, but now we've got a night on oval one. I think there's a lot of dialogue that wasn't there in the past. And I think they're starting to see us as genuine athletes - especially our premier division team.

CHRIS BATH, NEWS PRESENTER (Channel Seven, archive): The AFL is reeling tonight after yet another scandal...

GILLON MCLACHLAN: Two men on my senior executive team who had inappropriate relationships with two younger women who work in the AFL industry.

TRACY HOLMES: Earlier this month the AFL took a tough stance against two senior executives who admitted to office affairs. Their forced resignations have gone over well with these players.

OLIVIA WARREN: We have a code of conduct here that, thankfully, no-one has broken, 'cause they don't want to have those types of conversations. But I think it's really important because it does bring those values and harness them in, in terms of respect, equality. And I think: yeah, it's definitely - you need to adhere to a code of conduct.

TRACY HOLMES: It also makes good business sense.

(Footage of AFLW grand final match, 3 Feb., Fox Sports)

COMMENTATOR: Huge crowd in attendance. Big numbers still trying to get in here at Princes Park.

CRAIG ROBERTS, HEAD OF STRATEGY, ASIA-PACIFIC, GEMBA GROUP: Well, it's big business. The GDP numbers say that sport and recreation is about $18 billion a year, which is a bit more than 0.5 per cent of national GDP.

(Footage of AFL match, Fox Sports, archive)

COMMENTATOR: It's on line. It's perfect.

TRACY HOLMES: But the numbers have stagnated and it's women that are key to growth.

(Footage of AFLW match, Fox Sports, archive)

COMMENTATOR: And there's a piece of history for Jessie Garner!

CRAIG ROBERTS: The idea of bringing in new competitions, particularly with the positive brand attributes of female sport, creates more content for people to consume, which creates opportunities for brands to invest in that as well.

DR KIM TOFFOLETTI, AUTHOR, 'WOMEN SPORT FANS': I actually think that the AFL have an amazing opportunity, not just to capitalise on a female market, but actually to be change agents: to actually lead a much, much bigger conversation around the kind of society that we want; one in which women's achievements and endeavours are recognised and rewarded - and not considered second-tier or an add-on.

(Footage of NRL Women in League round, 20 July)

COMMENTATOR: It is Brisbane and Canterbury-Bankstown kicking off the Harvey Norman Women In League Round.

TRACY HOLMES: Over the weekend, the NRL celebrated women's involvement in the sport. League can't yet boast a national women's competition to rival the AFL but, in a show of one-upmanship, they're taking the code of conduct to a whole new level: targeting domestic violence.

TODD GREENBERG: We're not going to stand for this. The sport won't stand for it. We won't stand for people who do the wrong thing. And there will - there must be consequences.

TRACY HOLMES: The NRL is now actively considering lifetime bans for the worst offenders.

KOWANA WELSH, PLAYER, REDFERN ALL BLACKS: In the past, I feel like the NRL had a big part in minimising it. And that's then turned into victimising women that have domestic violence perpetrated against them.

(Footage of Redfern All Blacks training session)

TRACY HOLMES: The NRL could learn from the Redfern All Blacks.

SHANE PHILLIPS, COACH, REDFERN ALL BLACKS: So we thought: let's create the influence within, because we know that men were committing a lot of violence in communities. We know that they're the highest rate of perpetrators. But we chose to build and fix it ourselves.

TRACY HOLMES: Domestic violence is dealt with opening here. Perpetrators have to admit they're guilty and be prepared to change their behaviour if they want to play for the club.

SHANE PHILLIPS: We're open about it. When we look at other footy teams around our competition, they don't really talk about it. Here, our women's team: they keep us honest on it as well.

KOWANA WELSH: I'm a survivor of horrific, life-threatening domestic violence. I think that men have a long way to go. And hopefully, with the NRL implementing what they have, that'll trickle down to our local clubs.

(Footage of Sydney University Women's AFL training session)

TRACY HOLMES: The AFL women hope the administrators of their code will follow suit.

OLIVIA WARREN: I think athletes, administrators, especially the high-profile ones: they have a responsibility.

They're getting paid lots and lots of money. They're getting social media attention. They're getting media attention. They have responsibility. And that comes down to, getting paid that really good salary: you need to behave accordingly. You're role models.

TRACY HOLMES: The aim is growth. The answer is respect, both off and on the field.