Location, location, location: AFLW venue debate detracts from the footy

The topic du jour in the lead up to week two of the AFLW finals hasn't been how Richmond and North Melbourne will match up after their dramatic Round 10 draw. Nor has it been on whether inaccuracy will determine who progresses to the prelims out of the notoriously inaccurate Pies and Crows.

Instead, the focus has quite rightly been on the scheduling of this weekend's matches.

On Saturday, Adelaide will host the Collingwood at Unley Oval at 3:40pm AEDT with Richmond welcoming North to Punt Road Oval at 1:40pm AEDT.

Thanks to the schedule, the first semifinal kicks off exactly 55 minutes before the Matildas host Sweden in an international friendly at AAMI Park, 400 metres across the road.

Punt Road, while being Richmond's home ground, also holds the honour of being the equal second smallest venue in the competition with a grandstand that is currently out of use and a lack of broadcast quality lighting for night matches.

Between the timing and the venue these two separate but intertwined factors have coalesced into one big, frustrated response from fans. And it's a response which has arguably been a season in the making.

Venue selections first came to the fore when Bec Goddard began the 'Move It To Marvel' campaign in July to get the first ever clash between Hawthorn and Essendon moved from ETU Stadium in Port Melbourne to the 53,359-capacity ground in Docklands.

Rather than show some faith in the women and the AFLW community to turn up and turn out, the fixture was moved only a week before the game and only after tickets to the original venue sold out within a day.

The right decision was made but far too late.

Similarly, the festival of footy on men's Grand Final parade day took place across two of the smallest venues in the league. Utilising the public holiday was a great idea in theory but the reality was poorly executed, resulting in lockouts and plenty of people who wanted to watch footy but couldn't.

So, when it was announced that Richmond would host their semifinal at Punt Road, the reaction was not just to the venue selection and the scheduling. It was frustration by a thousand cuts across a season of poor, or poorly timed, decisions regarding AFLW games.

It must be said that as the team who finished higher on the ladder, Richmond has every right to play this game at home.

"We had some discussions with the AFL regarding the venue for this weekend's game, but ultimately we decided our AFLW team had earned the right to play a home final," Richmond CEO Brendon Gale told NewsCorp.

"Our players and coaching staff have worked incredibly hard for this opportunity and are very excited to be playing at the Swinburne Centre.

"While we understand some fans will be disappointed given the capacity of the venue, we owe it to our players to give them the best chance of winning."

While the reasoning behind the Tigers' decision has merit, so too does the wider community's frustration that people have likely been prevented from watching an AFLW final.

Moving games to bigger venues is by no means a new phenomenon in the AFLW. The Tigers themselves moved games away from Punt Road to bigger venues in 2020 and have advocated for games to be moved to bigger venues in the men's competition as well.

The decision to not move now feels slightly hypocritical.

When Gale was asked the about the hypocrisy on SEN on Tuesday, his answer only added fuel to the fire.

"There are no perfect decisions in football ... we've got to make the right decision and we just think in the circumstances, given what I've discussed, this is the right decision for Richmond, it's probably fair to say," Gale told SEN.

And while it may be the right decision for Richmond, the AFL's support of the Tigers' "very strong preference" to keep the game at Punt Road appears at odds with their own commitment to maximising attendances.

As does the league's decision to put this match less than an hour before the Matildas clash.

While the AFL has absolutely no obligation to allow fans to attend a rival sporting code's events, the decision to play this final at essentially the same time has likely prevented people from attending the footy.

The deliberate timing choice doesn't appear to benefit the AFL in any way, shape, or form.

The blame for this debacle rests at the feet of both the club and the league. Together they have created a situation where they have seemingly let their own members and fans down with small-minded thinking.

And it's this small-mindedness which has distracted from the actual main event: the footy.