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Enduring sexist comments and trying to change the narrative, these women want American football to grow in Australia

Fairy fluff clouds spread across the twilight sky, mixing pink and aqua to the west of Sydney. To the east, a flock of silhouettes gathers in a circle on a rectangular football field.

Figures are cut into different shapes. Some are short, some are tall. Many of the players with torn arms or swollen hamstrings wear the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Raiders gridiron assortment of green and white, the colors of his club.

The sun may be out on Tuesday night training, but the women of this football gang (the “Raidy Ladies”) hope their time for chords in the Australian sun is just getting started. .

“Here in Australia, the hype around American football is definitely on the rise,” says Renae ‘Red’ Hahn.

Hahn, who played for the UNSW Raiders team for 10 years, represented Australia in the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) World Championships.

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“More and more knowledge [American] Football is becoming more popular on TV and on social media,” says Hahn.

“Unfortunately, many people still assume it’s only performed by men.”

“Some people think it’s comical for a woman to act.”

Hahn, 30, plays the tight end position. He is one of the players responsible for wrestling the opposing defense and escaping the ball thrown by the quarterback. She is easily noticed in the field as she has fiery red hair sticking out from under her helmet.

Hahn, however, usually stays out during tonight’s training, but is absent after suffering a freak accident in a game two weeks ago that broke his leg.

Renae Hahn was one of five Australian women to play in the US Women’s National Football Conference earlier this year.(By: Jim Walker Photography)

Instead, she’s been an assistant coach on crutches as her team prepares for this Saturday’s grand final game, the culmination of the season known as the Opal Bowl. They will face off against the defending premiers and their biggest rivals, the Northern Sydney Rebels.

“Unfortunately, some people still think it’s a bit comical for women to play. [American] It’s football,” Hahn says.

“People say: ‘It’s not a girl’s sport.’ Some say: ‘Oh, why are you doing that to your body?’ When you get a bruise.

“Yeah, we got all the sexist comments. We’re still changing the narrative in a lot of people’s minds.”

A UNSW Raiders player trying to catch the ball.
The Raiders want to change the narrative and let people know that gridiron is a game for everyone.(Photo courtesy of Jim Walker)

One look at Hahn’s x-ray and you know this isn’t the Powder Puff Football League.

Hahn and her teammates play full-tackle gridirons, all body slams, impressive catches, dives, throws, and mesmerizing fans of the multi-billion dollar men’s National Football League (NFL) Features a strength and athletic performance display.

It’s a far cry from the contactless State League quintessential netball that Hahn played as a kid.

Earlier this year, Hahn was one of five Australian women to make history by moving to the United States to play in the burgeoning Women’s National Football Conference (WNFC).

She and her teammates received subsidized housing, gym access, and professional coaching under an international talent program.

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However, unlike the NFL, where star players earn more than $40 million ($59 million) a year, women in football are not paid. Hahn saved money for her move and worked her day job while training and playing.

Fundraising savvy, Hahn previously had to set up and pay for a GoFundMe page to represent Australia at the Gridiron World Championships.

Major sponsors such as Adidas and Bose are beginning to invest millions in U.S. women’s leagues under Odessa Chief Executive Officer Jenkins’ plan to reward women professionally within five years. It is reported.

Here in Australia, however, gridiron will have to move quickly to catch up with other codes that are already paying women.

Growing Women’s Games in Australia

Hahn’s coach, Dane Robertson, was the founding coach of the first UNSW Raiders women’s team in 2012.

The pair began dating that year and impressively navigated the challenges of a player-coach relationship, “not without hiccups,” Hahn says with a laugh.

Dane Robertson speaking to his team during the break.
Dane Robertson was the founding coach of the first UNSW Raiders women’s team in 2012.(By: Jim Walker Photography)

Robertson says Australian women’s football competition grew rapidly in its early days.

Talented code hoppers (including Wallaroo Liz Patu of the country’s most capped rugby union) took to the game to stay fit between seasons.

Another wallaroo, Victoria Ratu, played NRLW for the Sydney Roosters and also fielded for the Northern Sydney Rebels Gridiron team.

One of the Raiders’ youngest players, 18-year-old Cheyenne Dicker from the Central Coast is a talented rugby player who made a full board to play and study at America’s prestigious University of Notre Dame, Indiana. I just received my scholarship.

However, according to Robertson, gridiron has recently struggled to compete for talent with specialized code.

A UNSW Raiders player running with the ball.
Gridiron struggles to retain talent as other soccer codes now pay players.(Photo courtesy of Jim Walker)

“Because the season progresses uniquely between a rugby league season and other sports, at some point we were at peak talent among the participating women. [such as] It’s basketball,” says Robertson.

“The women who had just finished the rugby season started exploring this other sport and found they were pretty good at it.

“Then other football codes started paying women. AFLW and NRLW started offering paid contracts. I did.”

“Games of all shapes and sizes”

Broadcast viewership for the 2022 Super Bowl reached 1.87 million in February, demonstrating a clear appetite for the game in Australia.

But while viewership numbers have exploded, attendance numbers have risen slowly since 1979, when the Waverly Oval Raiders, the predecessor of the UNSW Raiders, formed Australia’s first men’s team. .

UNSW Raiders players on defense
There are about 70 football teams in Australia.(Photo courtesy of Jim Walker)

Gridiron Australia reports around 3,500 currently playing members across 70 teams across the country. Not a lot.

226 coaches, 394 volunteers and 59 officials are participating.

Wade Kelly, CEO of Gridiron Australia, said flag football (a type of non-contact Gridiron) could become an Olympic sport in time for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics “great potential”. He added that there is

This can be a valuable incentive to promote the growth of the women’s game.

Paul Manera, 2022 offensive coach of New South Wales women’s Gridiron team The Coyotes, says athlete diversity is key to the Gridiron’s wider appeal.

Female American football player goes to get the ball
Players want the opportunity to play in a professional women’s football league.(Photo courtesy of Jim Walker)

Manera was a college athlete and former football coach at the University of Hawaii. Through his school’s sports business, Bring It On Sports, he introduces his junior gridiron and flag football to schools across NSW.

“A lot of women really enjoy the fact that this is a game of all shapes and sizes,” says Manera.

“At Gridiron, you need big guys and little guys.

“There’s a quarterback position who likes to run and catch on the field and a quarterback position who likes to throw.

A UNSW Raiders player giving a thumbs up.
Women aren’t paid to play football, but like any football code, they want that option.(Photo courtesy of Jim Walker)

“I often compare American football to track and field. Every position is a different event and can attract different types of athletes.”

It may be a sport for everyone, but the women’s game has undoubtedly reached the extreme heights of the NFL, where Tom Brady earns a $30 million ($45 million) yearly salary, and has potential. is hidden.

But Raidy Ladies say they’re on the right track. Their mission to win the Opal Her Bowl game this weekend is a short drive towards the opportunity to play in Legendary End Her Zone, the League of Professional Women’s Football.

ABC Sports has partnered with siren sports To enhance the coverage of Australian women in sport.

Kate Allman is a Sydney-based journalist and sports broadcaster. In 2022, she became a finalist for the Walkley Awards for Women’s Leadership in Media. Equal Rewards for Equal Play motion. She holds a law degree and is passionate about improving the visibility, fair pay, and conditions for women in sport.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-12-09/the-women-growing-american-football-in-australia/101743206 Enduring sexist comments and trying to change the narrative, these women want American football to grow in Australia

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