Roller derby is getting a boost from AFLW, players Nicole Linard and Allison Hadfield have found. (ABC Central Victoria: Stephanie Corsetti)
Country women playing sport have become even more active since the high-profile launch of women’s AFL.
Regional Victorian coaches are reporting more women crossing over into different sports, in the wake of the inaugural professional women’s football season last year.
The Victorian Government has been trying to encourage more women to get active after research suggested women worried about being judged when exercising.
With the AFLW generating more interest in sport overall, women are becoming more aware of lesser-known sports such as roller derby.
Nix Vicious (aka Nicole Linard) and Library Fine (aka Allison Hadfield) at a Bendigo skate-shop. (ABC Central Victoria: Adriane Reardon)
The Dragon City Roller Derby club in Bendigo has the Chiko Rollers team, a tribute to the takeaway snack invented in central Victoria.
Roller derby has been a sport typically associated with aggression, but this Bendigo team wants the public to know what is really involved.
Team member Allison Hadfield said once spectators came and watched a game they realised the level of athleticism that was required.
“People just have this perception that you are just rolling around in circles whacking each other, which is totally not what we do,” she said.
The 43-year-old mother-of-two has named herself Library Fine for her roller derby alter ego because she works as a librarian.
Ms Hadfield said women’s football had made her sport more visible and increased acceptability for female players in contact sports.
“It was more of that spectacle kind of thing. It wasn’t taken seriously as a sport,” she said.
Ms Hadfield said the perception of roller derby had changed a lot over the past decade in Australia.
“Now it is taken a lot more seriously as a sport but wider society hasn’t seen that yet,” she said.
Ms Hadfield says roller derby shows anyone can be part of a physical-contact sport. (Supplied: Phil Northwood)
Chiko Rollers captain Nicole Linard said she found her sport thrilling and agreed women’s football had a positive flow-on effect for others.
“There are possibilities for people to be involved in physical contact sports and that it’s acceptable for people to do that,” she said.
She said any television coverage of women on the field promoted participation in all sport, while AFLW had also lifted women’s confidence.
“I think it shows too that you can be quite attractive and play a physical sport.”
Ms Linard said people from any type of working life could play roller derby.
“It shows that you can be from any background — teachers, students, professionals, anyone can be part of a physical sport,” she said.
Challenging traditional gender roles
Earlier this year, VicHealth raised concern about research showing 40 per cent of women held back from playing sport because they felt embarrassed or intimidated.
The recent This Girl Can advertising campaign has also given roller derby a boost because the sport is featured in the Australian version of the campaign.
The Victorian campaign was launched in March to challenge traditional gender roles and increase physical activity in the community.
“It’s all about breaking the perception of worrying about what you look like when you are exercising,” Ms Hadfield said.
She said she had never been a sporty type, but she had found her tribe at roller derby.
“Being a full contact sport, I get to do all those things that are not necessarily socially acceptable for girls,” she said.
Ms Hadfield said the traditional image of a woman involved her looking good while playing sport.
“I’ve always been a chubbier kind of woman and definitely not the sporty type.”
Crossover interest sparked by women’s footy
A senior coach from northern Victoria has noticed six women playing football and netball this year.
Echuca Football Club coach Mick McInnes said women’s football had started a trend for females to get more involved.
“It’s definitely helped. We noticed last year once it started when we were training, more turned up to training,” he said.
Bendigo-based netball coach Lauren Bowles said the expansion of women’s football locally beyond a single state team had also increased opportunities.
“We have the Bendigo Thunder and their one team plays in the Melbourne league,” she said.
The Australian Football League women’s competition is opening up a wide range of sporting opportunities for female players at all levels. (AAP: Dan Peled)
Ms Bowles said if players did not make the team, there were now other options for women to take up football.
“The Thunder has a team that plays in a local competition and Kangaroo Flat has a team,” she said.
“Definitely I think there is a shift and even the men I think are taking more interest in women’s football.”
She agreed more women were juggling football and netball, rather than players switching sports.
“If you want to have a go at football, you are kind of guaranteed a game,” Ms Bowles said.
“That doesn’t always happen with netball.
“There are all these opportunities to strive, to play higher, to play better and to be better as well.”
The Chiko Rollers will soon head to Adelaide for the Great Southern Slam, one of the biggest roller derby tournaments in the world.
More than 30 teams will compete across several divisions this June.