An Australian choreographer has been called out for asking dancers to perform at the 2020 AFL Grand Final for free as part of a “once in a lifetime” experience.

The choreographer Nathan M Wright asked specifically for dancers “over the age of 15” who were “strong performers.” He didn’t specify what it was for, but said it was for a “large scale event” in Brisbane on the 24th of October. He also said that “all performers will be engaged as volunteer performers,” obviously meaning nobody will be paid for their work.

We’ve discussed the issue of working for “exposure” more times than I can count at this point, but considering performing arts have been hit hardest due to coronavirus shutdowns, it’s even more ~not okay~ to ask them to work for free.

Following backlash online, the AFL has released a statement asserting that “it was never intended or designed as a performance by professional dancers.”

“No professional or paid dancers were approached to be involved in the segment,” the AFL confirmed.

But honestly, when you’re putting on arguably the biggest Australian sporting event of the year, it’s a total cop-out to assert that it’s not a professional performance.

Game day entertainment is a huge component of the AFL Grand Final, usually attracting huge names like The Killers and Paul Kelly to perform. So let’s be real here, this isn’t some high school talent show, it’s the fucking AFL Grand Final, and the entertainment deserves to be paid.

“The AFL Grand Final is known as a big gig for many professional dancers. I feel like it’s a real representation of what we do and don’t value in this country,”  the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance’s Sam Gaskin toldThe Project on Sunday night.

“I’m sure the players are being paid. I’m sure the cleaners are being paid. I’m sure the people serving the pies and the beers are being paid. So why on earth would we expect our performers not to be?” he added.

Considering the astronomical salaries we play some AFL players, it’s pretty piss-poor to expect dancers (who spend just as much time training to perfect their craft and maintain their fitness) to work for free.

The AFL is a huge name and if we let them get away with blatantly exploiting people for free labour, we’re just telling everyone else in Australia that it’s an okay thing to do.

Cochrane Entertainment’s Thea Jeanes-Cochrane has since defended the AFL’s decision, asserting that other events like the Commonwealth Games and the Women’s Cricket World Cup also use volunteer entertainment.

“There was never any intention to take work from professional dancers — it was always designed to provide an opportunity for members of local dance clubs and physie groups to participate,” Cochrane told news.com.au.

But just because it’s happened before doesn’t make it okay.

The AFL wasn’t asking for a bunch of locals to do a flash mob on the oval, they specifically asked for “strong performers” to help put on the show.

It’s absolutely understandable that the AFL has to cut some costs amid the coronavirus pandemic, but let’s not forget that it’s a business. If they can’t afford to run the event, that’s not an excuse to exploit people.

Last year, the AFL coughed up a whopping $10.57 million in salaries to executives and commissioners alone.  I’m sorry, but when the average board member sits on a nearly $900,000 salary, the AFL doesn’t get to cry poor.

Nobody would ever ask the players or AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan to work for free. It would be absolutely *insulting* to even suggest, so why is it okay for the dancers to perform purely for the ~experience~?

Unpaid labour and working for the promise of “exposure” is exploitative and a serious issue in Australia, and the AFL has a responsibility to do better.

If the AFL can’t afford to put on a show, they simply shouldn’t.