Female-friendly football changing facilities lagging behind

Jemma leaning against white goal posts with red football under her arm looking at camera

Football clubs in regional South Australia are worried the lack of female-friendly changing facilities will turn women off from participating in the sport.

Key points:

  • The number of unisex football changing rooms on the Eyre Peninsula are the lowest anywhere in South Australia
  • Participation numbers for women’s football have increased dramatically over the past decade
  • Club say significant infrastructure upgrades are needed to keep women in the game

Just 3 per cent of football change rooms are female-friendly on the Eyre Peninsula and West Coast — the worst in South Australia, according to a South Australia National Football League (SANFL) report.

Participation rates have grown a staggering 574 per cent between 2014 and 2019 in the region, and participation levels look set to continue to increase after the success of the inaugural Port Lincoln women’s football competition earlier this year.

However, the recent success has raised serious questions about the facilities — or lack of — that the girls endured.

The competition was run at the local high school where, due to a lack of changing rooms and toilets, players were forced to get changed outside, or walk more than 150 metres to a toilet located at a different venue.

Jemma leaning against white goal posts with red football under her arm looking at camera
Jemma Schilling says female players are obsessed with football on the Eyre Peninsula.(Supplied)

Boston Football Club’s women’s captain, Jemma Schilling, said women and girls were told to get ready before they arrived at the ground.

“If we needed to go to the bathroom or get changed, there was one set of unisex toilets located on Centenary [oval] … we would have to go across the road to use the bathroom.”

She said while the players were honoured and privileged to be playing in their own competition, she hoped the lack of facilities would not deter other players from joining the sport.

A happy team of female AFL players.A happy team of female AFL players.
Boston Football Club were crowned premiers in this year’s women’s competition.(Supplied)

“It would be a real shame if something like infrastructure stopped people from playing the sport,” Ms Schilling said.

Further along the Eyre Peninsula, on the state’s west coast, young female footballers play in a mixed competition with the boys.

Three girls holding a grand final cup at a football ground in regional south australia.Three girls holding a grand final cup at a football ground in regional south australia.
Sharni Cupples Sidler says her daughter, Ruby (middle), has to use the netball changing facilities to get changed.(Supplied: Sharni Cupples Sidler)

Sharni Cupples Sidler’s daughter, Ruby, plays for the West Coast Hawks Football Club under 14s side.

Ms Cupples Sidler said the sport was growing in popularity among girls in the area with a recent nine-a-side competition in Ceduna proving popular.

She said the lack of unisex changing facilities meant that if the girls wanted to get changed and use the toilet, they had to access the nearby netball changing rooms.

“I think it would be much more encouraging if there weren’t shared facilities and it was a bit more gender-neutral.”

The SANFL hoped that, by 2032, 50 per cent of player and umpire changing rooms would be female-friendly and in line with the AFL facility guidelines.

A woman, wearing an official team lanyard.A woman, wearing an official team lanyard.
Belinda Marsh says key stakeholders need to work diligently to upgrade facilities.(Supplied)

The infrastructure manager for the SANFL, Belinda Marsh, said the growth of female participation levels had been seismic in Port Lincoln.

She said the league was working hard with competitions and clubs in the region to ensure there were facilities for females that were fit for purpose.

“One of the big challenges for that competition [Port Lincoln] is female-friendly facilities,” Ms Marsh said.

“Certainly the family-friendly toilets and amenities for the girls are really important, but also trying to then make sure that capacity of the ovals meets their use.”

There are no female-friendly football changing facilities in Port Lincoln, something that the SANFL and the Port Lincoln Football League is working on.

Quinn smiling holding football honour board in background.Quinn smiling holding football honour board in background.
Quinn Dutschke says women’s participation has doubled over the past year.(Supplied)

Port Lincoln Football League operations manager, Quinn Dutschke, said the league did not expect the popularity of the first season, but was already working to improve the experience for the players next season.

“As things become more formal and more structured, we need to make sure women’s footy is supported with facilities in the same way we’d expect our men’s competition to be.”

The Boston Football Club has drawn up plans to build new female changing facilities, hoping to be a hub for women’s football in the future.

A man, wearing a black and yellow jumper, stands in front of honour boards at a football club.A man, wearing a black and yellow jumper, stands in front of honour boards at a football club.
Boston’s vice-president, Tony Baj, says it is sad in this day and age that facilities are failing to meet standards.(Supplied)

Boston’s vice-president, Tony Baj, said everyone needed to work together to ensure female facilities were to standard to continue to grow the game.

“There’s no doubt that if we haven’t got our stuff in place by the 2024 season, some girls are going to get called to the game, see the facilities aren’t up to scratch, and we’ll lose them.”

Posted 15m ago15 minutes agoFri 8 Jul 2022 at 3:37am, updated 14m ago14 minutes agoFri 8 Jul 2022 at 3:39am

Author: Ivan Robinson