AFLW players return to training with no pay deal and uncertainty over new season

AFLW players return to their clubs for pre-season this week with no pay deal confirmed and no idea how the 2023 season will look except that it will start in early September.

The exact date for round one has not been announced – though it is expected to be the first weekend of September – nor do players know whether last year’s 10-game format will be repeated for the league’s eighth season or what other rule changes may be on the cards.

The joint AFL-AFLW collective bargaining agreement is still being negotiated, with the players’ association pushing for 12-month playing contracts for AFLW players instead of the current nine-month deals.

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Carlton captain Kerryn Peterson said the sooner 12-month contracts happen, the better.

“It just is going to provide a lot of stability for our players,” she said.

Year-round insurance cover for injuries is one factor, but Peterson said the biggest issue a 12-month contract would help address is juggling employment.

“Going to an employer saying, ‘can I be employed full time for this period of the year but then only part time for this part of the year,’ there’s only so many employers that have that level of flexibility within their workforce,” she said.

Peterson is a physiotherapist but has cut back her hours to focus on football.

“I’ve gone from a permanent part-time role, dropping back to casual hours to allow me the flexibility and the time that is required to be an AFLW player, and being captain as well there’s a lot of added responsibilities that are very time consuming,” she said.

“As AFLW demands have increased year on year really, employment outside of footy has become harder and harder to maintain.”

Peterson has been able to pick up extra work at Carlton doing coaching and business development but she said it is “not lost on her” that many players don’t have that opportunity.

“It’s a constant balancing act,” she said. “The challenge has been that year-on-year we haven’t stabilised as far as the level of commitment and dedication and hours and things that are required being an AFLW player … the trajectory that it’s on is still creeping up every year.

“It’s a real challenge for everyone involved in the industry, not just players, but coaching staff and support staff as well who are continuing to try and juggle part-time work outside of the footy club, despite the demands going up as well.”

Port Adelaide captain Erin Phillips said it is not ideal for AFLW pre-season to be starting without date set for round one.

“But it’s not something we’re thinking about,” she said. “We know roughly about when the season most likely will start and that will probably be, from what I hear is that [AFL] bye weekend in August, September.

“And that’s all we’re really focusing on at the moment ... we have got 12 weeks at the moment to get as good as we can in that time and get ready to play our first game.”

Phillips said the long-term goal is for AFLW players to be full time athletes but that the aim now was to get this year’s fixture and “put a product on the field that’s exciting”.