First bounce is real AFL game-changer for Ballarat women | From the Press Box with Melanie Whelan

PIONEER: Eleni Glouftsis in action as the first female field umpire in an AFL pre-season match. She steps up to the game's highest level for Essendon-West Coast at Etihad Stadium on Sunday. Picture: Getty Images

PIONEER: Eleni Glouftsis in action as the first female field umpire in an AFL pre-season match. She steps up to the game's highest level for Essendon-West Coast at Etihad Stadium on Sunday. Picture: Getty Images

SHE can bounce. She can run. And she knows to play by the rules.

South Australian Eleni Glouftsis will be the first female field umpire to officiate in the AFL.

Glouftsis is part of a superwoman-like movement of women breaking barriers and setting new benchmarks in sport. A role model already inspiring a new generation.

Interestingly, women have never been officially excluded from football umpiring. But it has been a long time coming for a woman to take up a whistle as a central at the game’s highest level.

Glouftsis’ call-up on Sunday represents attitudinal change and opportunity, particularly in football at all levels of the game.

There is a belief.

Cool tips from Eleni Glouftsis after her NAB Challenge debut in 2016

Female participation in field umpiring has boomed across our region, jumping from three last season to between 25-30 each week in Ballarat Football Umpires Association ranks.

This is absolutely incredible, and they are not solely appointed to youth girls and women’s games either. Two promising youngsters have earned under-18 matches this weekend.

BFUA senior field coach Roger Le Grand said the fast-growing women’s game was a likely boost to female umpire numbers but each was out there to prove herself as an umpire, rather than a female umpire.

“We’ve got females umpiring all levels and we’re finding they’re taking to it like a duck to water,” Le Grand told Press Box. “You don’t have to have played the game as a prerequisite, we’ve got male umpires who have not played much, but you do need fitness and a good knowledge of the rules. We’re also finding the females don’t let the emotions of the game influence their decisions as much.”

Umpiring has traditionally struggled to get people put their hands up for a game. The discipline itself has worked hard, from top-down, to change respect in football culture.

Le Grand said all umpires should feel comfortable in their role and it was a huge credit to the Ballarat football community for the way they have encouraged and taken in female umpires.

INSPIRE: Ballarat central umpire Kellie McLeod is the city's first female field umpire to reach the VFL squad. Now there is a whole band in BFUA ranks wanting to follow her.

INSPIRE: Ballarat central umpire Kellie McLeod is the city's first female field umpire to reach the VFL squad. Now there is a whole band in BFUA ranks wanting to follow her.

Kellie McLeod is the BFUA’s ground-breaker.

McLeod was the first female to umpire Ballarat Football League seniors. This year she became the BFUA’s first female umpire to reach the Victorian Football League development squad, officiating TAC Cup under-18s. 

McLeod looks to Glouftsis’ promotion as “awesome”. To umpire AFL is what McLeod has always wanted to do. 

Stepping up to the VFL squad has been an incredible leap for McLeod who prepares, trains and approaches game day like the semi-professional athlete she is.

McLeod, one of three female centrals, must meet the same fitness standards as her male counterparts, including a two-kilometre run in less than seven minutes.

She knows the step up to AFL is even tougher. Glouftsis has proven it is achievable.

“I don’t the players any differently when I’m out there, so I don’t think they should do the same to us,” McLeod told Press Box. 

All it takes is one woman to make a break and more will follow, like in the BFUA. It will be exciting to see what Eleni will inspire.