Cat Phillips Part 4: Engineering the future of AFLW

Cat Phillips. Picture: saints.com.au

Read Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3.

Cat Phillips has been an elite player in Australia’s Ultimate Frisbee team for over a decade and has been playing AFLW for five years. In her spare time, she’s a commercial advisor in a major energy company.

Her background as both an elite athlete and in the workforce has allowed her to combine al her knowledge and experience and become a deep thinker about the state of the game and the future direction of AFLW.

Phillips talks about the challenges in her workplaces and her personal goals to strive for a diverse and equal representation across all workplaces.

“Both my workplaces, being a football club and an oil and gas company are both very male-dominated, and very established in the way they do things” Phillips explains.

“Both with AFL and with work, it can take a long time to make things happen. I’m pretty keen to keep chipping away and trying to work together, working on getting more women, and more diverse people, and more diversity of thought”.

Phillips knows that the balancing act she manages is not easy, and probably isn’t sustainable for full-time workers and part-time athletes.

“The playing group is pretty much at a tipping point, where we couldn’t do more football and maintain our careers,” Phillips said.

But, Phillips doesn’t believe that’s a bad thing though.

“My personal perspective is that I don’t see that the league is there for people like me.

“I’m holding down the fort, while we develop enough players who are real AFLW players. Anyone looking at this year compared to last year can see the massive improvement.

“We have very minimal time and resources. At the moment, we are contracted for about 12-15 hours a week for about 5 months. Ideally, that would be 30 hours a week for 12 months of the year”.

Phillips argues that those sorts of changes will allow the game to progress in leaps and bounds, as players improve. Phillips thinks the improvements will be across the board.

“Not only the quality on the field, but the resilience to injuries, and the ability for coaches to implement a longer-term game plan”.

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“When AFLW goes full-time, I’m going to retire and go back to my other career [Phillips clarified she meant her 9-5 job, not Frisbee].

“I didn’t grow up thinking I was going to be an athlete, because that pathway wasn’t there for me”.

Phillips sees that despite all the challenges that stemmed from COVID-19, there were some positives too.

“I see it as a really good opportunity that the AFL has to re-baseline normal. They have the potential to reallocate where resources go. I see it as a great opportunity to have a new beginning” she said.

“For too long, we have seen the lower value of women’s sport everywhere.”

Phillips talks about the hollow feeling when the AFLW season was cut short last year due to COVID-19.

“I know it was a really challenging time, but the AFL moved heaven and earth to get the men’s season to work, and it was disappointing that we couldn’t get an outcome that could do the same for the women”.

Phillips was noteworthy in speaking out for her priorities ahead of the last collective bargaining agreement (‘CBA’). The next negotiation will roll around in 2022, and Phillips is already casting her mind forward and looking at ways AFLW can go to the next level.

“I think it’s important to recognise how far the league has come and the way that the AFL has really pushed and brought everything forward. Five years into the competition, and we have 14 teams, and a broadcast deal, and genuine superstar players coming through.

“I think there has been a heap of good work done by the AFL and the next CBA will be an awesome opportunity to look where we can go from here,” Phillips said.

“I don’t think we need to just replicate what the men do and think they have the gold standard approach to the sport. It would be great if we can learn from that and build a different product for the women and be the best of both worlds”.

Phillips reflected on the remarkable growth of the 2021 season.

“We have seen the level of the league take a big step up, and that’s an awesome foundation and we’ve seen how good the product can be. I think it’s great to sit and look at what we can use the CBA to build on that and to make the AFLW a leader in women’s sport”.

Phillips worries that the ongoing part-time nature of AFLW is a concern for the future of the league.

“Last year there were eight players under 24 that retired, and I think that will continue while people have to weigh up AFLW and something else”.

“We need to stop devaluing women’s sport, and I think that will take some real leadership from someone, to put their hand up to be the first one not to do that.

I think there’s not a lot of positive reinforcement around the [AFLW], but I think that’s important to recognise where we have got to, and the way that the AFL has really pushed”.

Cat Phillips will likely be a significant voice at the next AFLW CBA negotiations coming up in 2022. She’s an elite AFLW player, running all game every game. She’s one of Australia’s most decorated Ultimate Frisbee players.

She’s also so much more, and she thinks about the game from a wide perspective.

Phillips may be angling for the day that AFLW has gone full-time, but the league will be poorer on the day she eventually hangs up the boots.

About Daniel Coppel 59 Articles
Daniel is a full time lawyer, and part time contributor. He is an avid sports fan of just about all sports, and is always up to find out about new sports. He covers sports for the Sanctum from Sydney, including AFL, netball and cycling, and is part of the Olympics coverage. He has a particular focus in empowerment of sporting leaders off field, and highlighting off field contributions of athletes

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