In a decision we embrace with open, extended arms and spirit fingers the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and Canberra Raiders are set to ditch their cheer squads next season, a term AFL fans associate not with scantily clad young women in thigh-high boots and miniskirts but with proud and passionate super fans – men and women – who are kind of feral, unhinged and rowdy and wave massive flags behind the goal square. That version is really so much better.
Raiders chief executive Don Furner told The Daily Telegraph that his club was “reviewing the club’s game-day entertainment.”
“We have always had them but research among our fans indicates it might be time for a change,” he said. “It’s not definite but we are reviewing our game day entertainment.”
“There are a couple of reasons,” he explained. “One, it is quite cold and a big ask for the woman, particularly during night games. And, two, cost. This decision has nothing to do with the Bulldogs.”
The Bulldogs, whose playing group were filmed in Sydney last year hurling sexist comments at a female
television reporter during the team’s Mad Monday celebrations in the wake of their Grand Final loss to the Melbourne Storm, announced this week that outsourced cheer squad, The Belles, had been fired and pre-match and halftime performances would be scrapped in favour of off-field duties like hospital visits to be conducted by female ambassadors chosen by the club itself.
They, more than anyone, are familiar with the NRL’s shaky relationship with women.
The abominable comments which aired on Channel 9 last year included “There are some ladies here to stick their heads in your pants”, “I want to go and punch you in the face” and thing that Joel Monaghan may have once said, “Suck me off you dumb dog”. Several players also urinated on the ground in full view of the gathered media.
The move is spearheaded by newly appointed Bulldogs CEO Raelene Castle, former chief executive of Netball New Zealand, who insists that cheerleaders will still have a role to play. Just not as gratuitous eye candy.
“We want to go in a more professional direction, where they do more than just dance in revealing outfits,” she said. “We want them to be ambassadors and have a much greater role in promoting what this club stands for.”
The NRL last year celebrated female contributions to the code by launching its “Women In League” campaign. Acknowledged as the ‘Patron Saints of the sidelines’ (which is kind of patronising in itself, right?) wives, mothers, administrators, volunteers, physiotherapists and referees were all honoured in an ad which the league hoped would “break down female stereotypes as well as acknowledging the amazing contribution of women at grass roots level.”
These new decisions, made independent of league administrators, is another step in the right direction.