THE AFL prides itself on being a brave and bold organisation. In recent years, it has gone to war with governments and stadiums, it has brutally crunched record-breaking broadcast agreements with the country's most powerful media moguls and taken calculated but costly risks on two of the best-known rugby league players in the land.
Casting aside potential loss of face and bank balance, it has launched two football clubs off the back of Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau in two of Australia's toughest sporting markets. This week's indigenous fixtures are another reminder that the AFL can rightly claim to be a pioneer.
Which makes the league's decision to run away from Mother's Day all the more perplexing. Particularly given the AFL's constant claim that it must continue to embrace women in the code as clubs and their increasingly desperate bottom lines demand membership, sponsorship and attendances.
As ''fan experience'' goes, the scene at Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon about 12.30pm could not have been more uninspiring. Some 7000 North Melbourne and Bulldogs supporters had trickled in to witness a handful of North officials egging on a handful of women dressed in club colours kicking for goal. In fairness, the Kangaroos tried their hardest.
On the big screen, North players spoke about their mothers. At the Medallion Club mothers were handed roses. Commentators spoke about getting home early for family dinners. Just over 20,000 fans turned up to watch the Bulldogs cause an upset. And that was about it.
Then Fremantle defeated Port Adelaide in front of a healthy 30,000 over at Subiaco and football heaved a collective sigh of relief. The day the AFL claims clubs shy away from was finished for another year.
This columnist would argue that Mother's Day as a fixture has only become that way due to the AFL's lack of imagination. That applies to clubs as well. Those clubs who lobby each year for new stand-alone attractions in the hope they become blockbusters should use their imagination and embrace Mother's Day.
Given what the AFL and its clubs have done with Anzac Day, the Dreamtime game, the season-opening round and others makes it all the more strange that it has turned its back on what has become around Australia, and certainly in Melbourne, a massive occasion. Restaurants and cafes now burst at the seams at breakfast, lunch and dinner. So do those cinemas that schedule special Mother's Day features with add-ons.
The Mother's Day Classic run/walk around the Tan attracts thousands raising funds for the National Breast Cancer Foundation. It seems more astonishing that the AFL, having embraced with the Melbourne Football Club the Breast Cancer Network Australia's famous pink lady in the middle of the MCG, has not used its imagination to create something special for its legion of women fans on Mother's Day.
The AFL says attendances are always poor on Mother's Day, having created a climate of non-interest and in fact removing one of the three games usually played on a Sunday to the following Monday night. This year's games were never going to attract big audiences given the teams involved.
Last season, Essendon played West Coast at Etihad and Melbourne played Adelaide at the MCG. In 2009 and 2010, there were no games at all in Melbourne and in 2008 there were no games at all on Mother's Day due to a weekend off for a special 150th-anniversary state-of-origin game.
Women's Round has failed to become a meaningful punctuation mark in the AFL's fixture having been shifted around and sometimes ignored altogether. It's to be held over round 17 this season.
Here's a thought. Schedule it over the Mother's Day weekend and pitch Collingwood against Hawthorn/Essendon/Carlton/Geelong/Richmond at the MCG on Sunday afternoon. Join forces with the Tan classic. Play a VWFL game as a curtain-raiser. Line up Deborah Conway or Clare Bowditch to perform a couple of songs. Offer an incentive for mothers and their children to come along. We think the crowds would come.
The AFL is the game that welcomes everyone. Women embrace it in proportions not seen in any other code. And yet two days ago, for the AFL and its clubs, Mother's Day was an opportunity lost.