Visa system working against semi-professional sportswomen from overseas, player agent says


A player agent is calling for a change to visas for international athletes to help attract talent from overseas to the AFLW, saying the current rules don’t allow for semi-professional women players.

The agents trying to sign women — particularly Irish footballers — have said current visas act as a deterrent because they do not allow for players to work alongside their part-time commitments in the league.

Agent Jason Hill said temporary visas were set up for imports who earnt enough to substitute a full-time wage and did not cater for semi-professional players.

“They’re mainly set up for male sport stars and they’re mainly set up in a way that the financial constraints that are put on the player is with the expectation that they’ll be earning a full-time, year-round salary,” he said.

There are 14 Irish women currently contracted to play AFLW, but that figure is almost 25 per cent lower than their representation in last year’s competition, in which 18 Irish players competed.

Jason Hill says adjusting the visa rules would help women’s sport across the board.(Supplied: Peter Healy)

The threat of coronavirus and restricted international travel has added another challenge.

Former Carlton player Joanne Doonan chose not to return from Ireland to play this season due to the risk it would be cancelled.

While the AFL has made a commitment to complete the 2021 women’s season, fixtures have been tweaked multiple times because of changing COVID-19 restrictions across the country.

“If the season is over, you’re unable to work so you obviously have to think about savings, if that is worst-case scenario,” Doonan said.

“I know obviously the club would never leave me stranded, but it’s definitely something you have to consider.”

Australian Rules player Joanne Doonan on the field for Carlton
Joanne Doonan playing in with Carlton her debut season.(Supplied)

Griffith University scrutinised the work and pay conditions of women in the AFLW in 2018, finding players were paid a base wage of $16,000 while top players earnt just under $30,000.

The researchers found players were expected to be optimistic and grateful for “their substandard work conditions and low pay”.

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Brisbane Lions player Orla O’Dwyer is from Ireland but she is allowed to work part-time because she is a dual Australian citizen.

“Even just applying for simple things like bank cards and Medicare and stuff it’s just, it’s a lot easier for me,” she said.

O’Dwyer said she knew she was a rare case and agreed more support could be offered from the system to her fellow countrymen in the league.

“I think it’d definitely make things a lot easier and the stress and anxiety around trying to figure everything out,” she said.

A Department of Home Affairs spokesperson told the ABC the Sport (subclass 421) visa was revoked in 2012, but international athletes participating in professional teams were eligible for the Temporary Activity (Subclass 408) visa.

“Professional sportspersons holding a Temporary Activity visa are not permitted work outside their approved sporting activity,” the spokesperson said.

The Department of Home Affairs confirmed visa arrangements for international athletes are not under review.

But Hill said an adjustment would help all codes trying to promote a women’s competition.

“Not just in the AFLW but if we look at the A-League and the W-League for women, if we look at the Big Bash for women, we’re looking at all Australian sports there’s an opportunity here right now for the league and the leagues to work together,” he said.

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