Curtin Uni Wesley players stand arm in arm in a huddle during an Aussie rules match.

Amateur female football players call out sexist comments ‘by older men’ after low-scoring grand final

Ebony Thompson and Karlee Anning train at least two nights a week, play 16 home and away games a year — more if they make it to finals — and literally put their bodies on the line for a sport they love.

Key points:

The grand final match was played in blustery conditions
A social media post on the low-scoring match went viral
The Perth Football League has condemned much of the commentary

The amateur footballers with Curtin Uni Wesley in the Perth Football League (PFL) played in the A-grade grand final against Wembley more than a week ago, going down 13 (1.7) to 10 (1.4).

For Ebony and Karlee, the loss was hard enough to deal with, then they saw some of the online comments responding to a post about the game on PFL’s Facebook page.

“There started to be a lot of backlash online regarding the score,” 21-year-old Ebony said, who also plays with East Perth in the West Australian Women’s Football League (WAWFL).

Karlee Anning (right) and Ruby Tompkins (left) before the grand final match, and the unexpected backlash.(Supplied: Luke Baker)

“And there are over 1,000 comments on there now … a large majority of them are comments that are very derogatory, and sexist and generally just very poor form.

The post now has just under 1,000 comments, with some since having been removed.

One user commented:

“Here’s an idea for womens [sic] football … Shorten the oval”.

To which another user responded:

“And there [sic] gear”, in what would appear to be a reference to the players’ uniforms.

Another wrote:

“And women want equal pay. I’ve seen under 10s boys matches with scores triple this”.

Claim ‘older men’ behind many comments

Ebony, who wears number 21 for Curtin Uni Wesley, said it was hard not to notice a similarity among the profiles making most of the offensive remarks.

“That would be men,” she said.

“Obviously now there’s like over 1,000 comments so to look through all of those profiles is not doable but when it first started up, we actually did look through the profiles of the people who were making these really disgusting comments and they were all … they’re all older men.

Curtin Uni Wesley players stand arm in arm in a huddle during an Aussie rules match.

The players of Curtin Uni Wesley’s A-grade women’s team decided to speak out about the online commentary after their grand final.(Supplied: EC Images)

“And you look at them and you go, you’re not someone who would come down and play a sport so why are you commenting on young women playing sport?

“It was kind of feral.”

Calling out behaviour ‘right thing to do’

The nursing student said after discussing it with the other players, both from within her own squad and the other team, they had decided to call out the behaviour, knowing it might lead to more of the same comments but feeling it was the right thing to do.

“There’s always hate around women’s sport so it’s kind of sad to say that it’s not super unexpected but to have that post completely blow up like that was kind of insane,” she said.

Curtin Uni Wesley players stand arm in arm in a huddle during an Aussie rules match.

Curtin Uni Wesley players in a huddle during the A-grade grand final.(Supplied: EC Images)

“We’ve just seen what’s happened with the Matildas and how incredible that was so at a time where women’s sport is really growing … to have this happen it’s kind of a bit like, where are we?

“And so, I thought it was really important to share that this sort of thing is still happening and that a lot of women going through amateur sport and trying to develop their game are still subject to so much hate online.”

A study in 2019 found social media abuse targets female athletes three times more than men.

And World Athletics conducted studies, the first across the 2021 Tokyo Olympics with a follow up the year later, that found female athletes were the main target of online abuse.

And while it is not a direct comparison to the scores of the women’s grand final, a recent post on PFL’s Facebook page about a grand final match in the male’s colts division this past weekend — in which the result was 55 (8.7) to 13 (1.7) — had received just three comments, none remarking on the low score of the losing team.

‘All they would have seen was the score’

Karlee said her frustration at the remarks was exacerbated by the fact most of those commenting would not have known what conditions they faced that day.

“It was blowing a gale and bucketing with rain,” she said.

Karlee Anning walking on the field.

Karlee Anning says it’s frustrating that those who made the negative comments had not known the conditions they faced that day.(Supplied: Luke Baker)

“I play in the back line, and as a defensive unit, we’ve kept teams goalless this season multiple times and we were facing another team that was very defensive as well, and had the set-up correct.

“So, you’ve got two very defensively strong football teams, in shocking conditions and on an oval bigger than we’ve played on all season … there’s so many different factors at play and all they would have seen was the score.

“You’ve got the Eagles playing professionally getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars and putting a score of 34 points up in a longer game, and an AFL game.

“The fact we are having to defend the score as amateur players, not to mention the sexist tone of many of the comments, it’s really disappointing.”

The 25-year-old who works for Sportsbet said it was encouraging to see other users show support for the players or call out the behaviour.

Players hustle for the ball.

Karlee Anning says it was bucketing down with rain and blowing a gale during the match. (Supplied: True Spirit Photos)

One user, who appeared to be a man, commented on the post:

“Fragile men everywhere on this post.”

Another, this one who appeared to be a female user, wrote:

“Absolutely disgusting comments from man babies so threatened by women playing football. I hope none of them have daughters who aspire to play football one day.”

PFL condemns ‘disappointing’ comments

Karlee, who wears number 20 for Curtin Uni Wesley, said while she understands moderating so many comments would be onerous, she would have liked it if the admin on PFL’s Facebook page had either turned off comments or responded in some way.

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CEO of PFL Andrew Dawe said the response to the post was neither normal nor expected, and while comments were initially monitored and deleted if they crossed a line, commenting was disabled once the post went viral.

“The Perth Football League strongly condemns the inappropriate social media comments made about female football players,” he said.

“It is extremely disappointing to see that there are still people out there who feel the need to make these comments, especially about women at the amateur level who are playing footy to have fun with their mates.”

Curtin Uni Wesley players stand arm in arm in a huddle at an Aussie rules match.

Curtin Uni Wesley went down to Wembley 13 to 10 in a match played in blustery conditions.(Supplied: Luke Baker)

Karlee said dealing with the fallout from the comments had been difficult but was made all the more manageable having such a close friendship group within the squad.

And for those who felt the need to make negative, and often offensive, comments online, she shared a message.

“I would challenge them all to go down to [their] closest women’s football club and do a training with them or go down there and help them out,” she said.

“We’ll see you in January when it’s 40 degrees and stinking hot at 6pm and we’re running 8 kilometres a night, come train with us!”

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Author: Russell White