Players fear for the future of AFLW

St Kilda's Tilly Lucas-Rodd (r) is hopeful that AFLW will return in 2021 post the COVID-19 shutdown.
St Kilda's Tilly Lucas-Rodd (r) is hopeful that AFLW will return in 2021 post the COVID-19 shutdown.

There are genuine fears within AFLW playing ranks that elite female footballers might not have a national competition to play in next year.

The women's league is facing an uncertain future after four seasons in operation as the AFL tackles the biggest financial crisis in its history due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Some clubs that fielded AFLW teams during the incomplete 2020 season are questioning whether they can afford to continue doing so beyond this year.

Multiple players spoken to by AAP in recent days have expressed concerns that AFLW might be sacrificed or scaled back as part of drastic AFL cost-cutting measures.

"There's a lot of uncertainty whether it (a 2021 season) will even happen because the AFL has taken a huge financial hit with this stuff," St Kilda's Tilly Lucas-Rodd said.

"It is uncertain whether it will happen, how long it will be and what it will look like.

"But you've got to push that to the side and think it's going to happen because there's obviously bigger things in the world going on that are more important at the moment than footy."

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan has publicly said the league's intention is to ensure AFLW continues in the 14-team format that emerged from last year's expansion process.

The $600 million line of credit secured by the AFL last week could provide the lifeline the women's competition needs.

But there are many competing interests the AFL needs to prioritise as it navigates its way through the financial crisis, including keeping 18 clubs and the men's competition viable.

West Coast captain Emma Swanson said the future of AFLW had been on players' minds since the season was abruptly cancelled last month because of government restrictions put in place to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

"There's been a mountain of work put into women's football over a number of years and particularly over the last four or five years into the AFLW," Swanson said.

"You just hope that there's been too much work put into it to just let it slide away now.

"I stand by the AFL... I'm sure they'll do everything they can to make sure we're still running around next year some time."

AFLW coaches Nathan Burke (Western Bulldogs) and Steve Symonds (Collingwood) also urged the AFL not to let the women's competition stagnate or fall by the wayside after years of growth that have provided significant benefit to the game overall.

Australian Associated Press