Ainslie Football Club becomes the first known Australian rules club to spend equal money on men’s and women’s programs

When Allyson Flynn and Zoe Skyrianos heard that Lewes Football Club had agreed to pay their women’s team the same as their men’s, they wondered if their football club could do the same.

In 2017, Lewes FC, a football club in England, became the first professional or semi-professional football club to make such a commitment.

“That’s what Zoe and I used as the basis for saying, ‘Look, it’s being done in another sport. We think you can do it in football,'” Flynn said.

While Flynn and Skyrianos were not aware of any Aussie Rules club in Australia that had committed to equal pay, they were confident that Ainslie Football Club, in the northern hinterland of Canberra, could be the first.

“I thought there was this great opportunity for Ainslie to be a leader in this space,” Flynn said.

In late 2021, Flynn and Skyrianos approached the Ainslie board of directors asking for equal pay.

‘It’s fucking exciting’

In March 2022, Ainslie announced her intention to introduce equal funding for men’s and women’s programs in 2023.

“We recognize that gender equality is a challenge in many sports and we hope that by leading by example, we will shape opportunities for women in sport more broadly,” said Ainslie President Lee Phillips.

Ainslie believe they are the first Australian rules club to commit to fair funding.

Two men and two women gather in front of a football oval and smile for a photo.
Lee Phillips (left), Britt Tully (center left), Len Hatch (center right), and Zoe Skyrianos.(ABC Sport/Siren Sport: Julia Faragher)

For the club leaders, choosing to go ahead with the release of Flynn and Skyrianos was an easy decision.

“In some respects, the announcement was the easy part because when Allyson Flynn and Zoe Skyrianos came to the board, it was almost automatic that we would accept it,” said board member Len Hatch.

“It’s a little daunting how we’re going to address the gap, but it’s very exciting.”

First steps towards equality

Since the announcement in March, Ainslie has already started to make progress on her commitment.

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Changes this year so far include paying the Division 1 women’s team, bringing in a women’s wellness coach, ensuring a physio is present at every match and women’s training session, and reorganizing changing rooms so the women’s team has its own space.

“We’ve spent a lot of time, particularly among the women’s group, consulting, getting information to get a really good idea of ​​what inequality looks like,” Hatch said.

Hatch is the chairman of a new task force set up to figure out how to make Flynn and Skyrianos’ vision a reality. The working group is made up of people from all parts of the club, including representatives of the senior and junior players.

One player kicks the ball while another tries to smother it.
Ainslie now has a female wellness coach and the changing rooms have been rearranged to have their own space.(ABC Sport/Siren Sport: Julia Faragher)

“We want this to take root throughout the organization,” Hatch said.

Ainslie’s commitment to equitable investment does not require any cuts in the men’s program. Rather, as interest in women’s and women’s football grows, the club is finding that interest from sponsors is also growing, so they are exploring options to increase their funding.

“It’s not about cutting the same cake differently. It’s actually about making a bigger cake,” Flynn said.

‘You’re building it up for the girls now’

Britt Tully, head coach of the Ainslie women’s program and inaugural AFLW player for the GWS Giants, said she was excited to see the progress towards equal pay.

Britt Tully stands in front of a white fence on a football oval and smiles.
Britt Tully is the head coach of the Ainslie women’s program and a former AFLW player for the GWS Giants.(ABC Sport/Siren Sport: Julia Faragher)

“When I started in AFLW, the pay was really low. It didn’t benefit us much, but it’s the same, you’re building it up for the girls now that they’re coming in and they’re like ‘actually, I think this can be my career,'” Tully said. —.

One of Ainslie’s goals for the coming year is equal pay for male and female coaches.

“It’s very exciting to think that the coach can be paid here at the same level as the men because that can be a career that someone enters, it can be a path to AFLW or AFL or whatever they want to do,” he said. Tully. .

Chyloe Kurdas, an AFLW commentator and inclusion and diversity specialist, said Ainslie’s commitment was a big step for gender equality in sport.

“It’s great what Ainslie is doing to make sure that as girls grow up in the system, they have what they need and that a girl has the same access to things as her brother,” Kurdas said.

“It’s not just about standing up for women and girls, it’s about standing up and saying ‘what kind of community and society do we want to live and play in?'”

The Ainslie women's soccer team gathers in a group on the Australian rules ground.
The Ainslie Division 1 women’s team prepare to take on the Gungahlin Jets.(ABC Sport/Siren Sport: Julia Faragher)

It’s not just about the money

In addition to equal pay, Flynn knows there are opportunities to make positive changes toward gender equality that cost nothing.

“For me, it’s the whole spirit and attitude towards him. It’s not just about making sure the dollars line up,” Flynn said.

When Flynn started playing for Ainslie in 2017, the women’s team was unable to train at their home oval. Now, Ainslie has modified their training schedule so that the women’s team have the ground to themselves for one night instead of training after the men’s team.

An Ainslie Football Club player kicks the ball during a match.
Ainslie’s Division 1 women’s team finished the 2022 home and away season top of the table.(ABC Sport/Siren Sport: Julia Faragher)

“That’s a big win because we used to come from across the street [at another oval]walk at 7 and then train and share the gym and share all the facilities that [we were] happy to do it,” Tully said.

“But I guess we’re past the point of being happy to do it and wanting equality on both sides.”

Kurdas agreed that achieving gender equality in sport is not just about money, but also about leadership and commitment from the club.

“If there was a unit of measurement for thinking ability, the same amount of thinking ability would be expended on the female program as on the male program,” Kurdas said.

“It doesn’t cost money to ask girls and women what they want to achieve and where they want to go.

The Ainslie player takes the ball away while others chase after her.
At first, the Ainslie women’s team were unable to train at their home oval.(ABC Sport/Siren Sport: Julia Faragher)

“I think as a coach and as a board, you have a responsibility to meet all the needs of all your athletes.”

‘AFL Canberra needs to catch up’

There are some changes that Ainslie cannot make due to AFL Canberra restrictions.

The club cannot pay its men’s and women’s teams equally due to a $60,000 gap in salary-cap rules. The maximum salary cap for the men’s competition is $80,000, while the maximum salary cap for the women’s competition is only $20,000.

A wide shot of women playing Australian rules in an oval.
Ainslie’s Division 1 women’s team host the Gungahlin Jets at the home of Alan Ray Oval.(ABC Sport/Siren Sport: Julia Faragher)

Ainslie is currently paying up to the maximum for both salary caps.

“I would raise the salary cap if they could because I know girls are going to go play in different states just because there’s more money there,” Tully said.

“We need to make sure we’re an AFLW feeder one way or another. So you have to have good players playing here, otherwise they’re just going to go to Sydney, Melbourne, South Australia.

The women play Australian rules.
The players hope that the measure will be replicated by other clubs.(ABC Sport/Siren Sport: Julia Faragher)

“AFL Canberra needs to catch up and align with what other competitions across Australia are doing.”

Kurdas agrees that the salary cap has its problems.

“Removing that cap or that limitation could actually increase the level of creativity, open up sponsorship opportunities, create more opportunities to bring more money into the economy of the women’s game,” Kurdas said.

“I think it’s quite regressive and a really limiting position.”

Meanwhile, Ainslie is focused on maximizing the impact her commitment will have on the long-term prospects of women and girls in AFL.

And according to Hatch, this is a far cry from just this year’s Division 1 players.

“This is a nine-year-old boy. [girl] starting to play football next year and seeing where that can lead both within Ainslie and further into national competition,” he said.

ABC Sport partners with siren sport to elevate coverage of Australian women in sport.

Julia Faragher is an artist and writer based in Canberra and was previously an intern at ABC Sport.

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