It’s been debated for many a year as to the merits of having themed rounds to recognise the various factions that make up our great game. While the likes of Umpires Round and Indigenous Round play a vital part in the AFL’s sporting calendar, the inclusion of Women’s Round has highlighted to the football world the significant contribution that women make to our game, whether that be at a higher level or simply cutting the oranges at half time at the local football match.
As well as this, women play a vital role in various media circles. The likes of Caroline Wilson, chief football writer at The Age, and Samantha Lane, Channel 7 presenter and The Age journalist, have and still are making significant contributions in their chosen fields. While AFL media has traditionally been a largely male-dominated field, the fact that women are becoming more prominent in football media is a testament to how the game has grown off the field.
We only have to look at well-respected Fox Sports presenter and Before The Game panellist, Neroli Meadows, to see the brilliant work she is doing to change previously archaic views of sports media.
Meadows grew up in Collie, a small town in Western Australia, and supported the Dockers at a young age. She has also spent time in Sydney and now is based in Melbourne as a part of Fox Footy.
While many have various dreams as youngsters, she set her sights on sports media, even at a young age.
“I knew pretty early on, I knew (covering sport was) what I wanted to do – I wasn’t good enough to play sport professionally so decided to watch it instead,” she told Bound For Glory News. “I loved shows like Sports World and remember thinking, I want to do what Johanna Griggs does.”
While many unfortunately still share the view that men should predominately cover the game, it is clearly a perception that is changing with time. “I think for the most part people, fans, other journos, players and coaches are all used to women covering the game now,” Meadows said. “At many press conferences these days you’ll see just as many women as men which is fantastic.
“It’s becoming ‘normal’ and accepted for females to cover footy and know just as much as the boys while we do it.”
While those would have been more familiar with Meadows’ work at Fox Sports and Fox Footy, in 2013 she become part of the Before the Game team, replacing Lane. When quizzed about the difference between both areas of her profession, she said they worked well together.
“When I’m working at Fox Sports News and Fox Footy, I’m a journalist and a presenter so it’s all about news, while at Before the Game I’m working with a bunch of comedians in front of a live audience where anything can happen, so it’s very different,” she said.
“It’s a chance to show a bit more personality on air and have some fun. I love doing both and they go hand in hand really well.”
Over the years Women’s Round has been embraced by all sections which, in 2013, includes an inaugural exhibition women AFL match between representative sides of both Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs. In Meadows’ eyes, Women’s Round is a vital part of our calendar.
“I think it’s super important to recognise the role women play in our game,” she noted. “It’s such a popular sport with women and it’s great to see more girls getting out there.”
While working in a largely male-oriented field, she has no doubt faced some challenges from doubters and it is a testament to her resolve that she has been able to overcome these challenges and thrive in this environment.
“I grew up with two big brothers so I’m pretty used to being out-numbered by boys. I think the key to working with blokes is to not take anything too seriously around the office and try to catch them off-guard from time to time.”
There is no doubt that Meadows is an inspiration and a role model for budding female sports journalists, and when asked, she gave a piece of advice for those out there who are female and wanting to make it big in the sports media industry.
“I think if you’re a young woman who wants to work in sports journalism, then go for it,” she told. “There are plenty of women who are very successful and highly regarded and respected – there’s no reason you can’t be one of them.”
Her journey from a quiet country town to the big time in sports journalism acts as a representation of how far the AFL, and in particular the acknowledgement of Women’s Round, has come.
There is no doubt that in the future, more and more women will make it in sports media, and ultimately this can only be a good thing for the industry.