Women’s AFL has been the buzz of Australia since the inaugural national professional women’s league was announced in late 2016. 2017 saw 8 teams compete in the national league, with the Adelaide Crows becoming the first AFLW premiership team in history following a brilliant season.
The introduction of the AFLW league prompted an explosion in participation in women and girl’s football at the community level – not only in Australia, but internationally. The Vietnam Swans were early pioneers in the inclusion of women in Asian Aussie Rules. In late 2014, the Swans launched a four week mixed modified-rules league to be held during the off-season, named the Al Fresco’s 9s. This inaugural league attracted 60 players, making up four teams playing off in a round-robin format each week. The majority of the women came from the Swannies’ sister club – the Saigon Gaels – with the Swannies men and some AFL new-comers making up the rest. The league was a resounding success, with the quality of the women’s skills being particularly impressive. The league was repeated again in 2015/2016, with the skills and quality getting better and better. There are plans to hold it again later in 2017.
Last year, the AFL Asian Champs committee set an ambitious goal of hosting the first women’s exhibition match in Asia at the tournament to be hosted by the Vietnam Swans in Saigon. The girls from the Saigon Gaels and Viet Celts answered the call, and 4 girls from Cambodia also donned jerseys to take part in this historic match – coached by ex-AFL players Brad Seymour (Sydney Swans) and Andrew Embley (West Coast Eagles). With a break in play for the men’s games, all eyes at the Champs were on the women’s feature match, with the vocal crowd showing their excitement and support. The spark was officially lit, and women’s AFL in Asia had been launched.
Earlier this year, Cambodia started the first official women’s club in the region – the Cambodian Asparas. With an impressive initial turnout of over 25 women – many of them local Khmer girls – numbers continued to grow, prompting the club to invite Vietnam to travel to Phnom Penh for the first ever international AFLW game in Asia.
The Vietnam women united with the Vietnam Swans, boarded a bus, and prepared to make history. With a fantastic homeground crowd, Cambodia were brilliant hosts and played their hearts out in their first official hit-out against a slightly more experienced Vietnam team. Vietnam took the game 31-6, but it was clear that the Asparas will only get better with time. If the rapid development of the Khmer players in the Cambodian Eagles in recent years are anything to go by, the Apsaras look set to be a powerhouse in the years to come.
This Saturday, the Gaels and Apsaras will face off at the Lord Mayor’s Oval in Vung Tau in the first all-women’s AFL match to be played at the ground. First bounce is at 11AM – get down to the ground early and watch some thrilling footy!