Female footy player's powerful response after Matthew Lloyd rips AFL over skinfold move

The AFL has made a telling new move to protect its young players.

Former VFLW player Eloise Gardner has offered a chilling insight into her experiences around a controversial practice the AFL has decided to ban, in order to protect young footy players. Skinfold tests have been used for decades to provide clubs with a reliable body fat estimate for their players, but have now been scrapped across the AFL's talent pathways at all 18 clubs.

Veteran AFL journalist Caroline Wilson says football bosses from every men’s and women’s program were informed of the decision without any consultation at AFL headquarters last week. The move is aimed at protecting the mental health of young players, limiting the stigma around weight and body fat and the idea that athletes need to conform to a certain physical condition.

On the right is former VFLW player Eloise Gardner and Essendon AFL great Matthew Lloyd on the left.
Former VFLW player Eloise Gardner has given a chilling account of her experiences around skinfold tests after Matthew Lloyd criticised the AFL's move to ban them. Pic: Nine/Getty

The move has raised eyebrows around the AFL, with former greats such as Matthew Lloyd and Kane Cornes both critical of the skinfold bans. But former Essendon VFLW player Eloise Gardner says the outrage against the AFL's new move has been "atrocious" and gave a worrying account into her own experiences of over-exercising and under-eating to the point where she admitted having a "borderline eating disorder".

Eloise Gardner welcomes move to ban skinfold tests

“Between my first and second VFLW seasons I lost 10kg, became obsessed with tracking my weight and food to the point of borderline having an eating disorder and was over-exercising," Gardner wrote in response to critics of the skinfold ban. "The pressures on young athletes is already enough. I remember being celebrated for how hard I’d worked over the off season and the praise I received.

"It very quickly embed the belief that my weight determined my self worth. I have no doubt my obsession with pushing my body to its limits, whilst not fuelling my body appropriately and neglecting other aspects of my mental and emotional wellbeing was a key factor in my current chronic illness.”

On the left is former Essendon VFLW player Eloise Gardner.
Former VFLW player Eloise Gardner has backed the AFL's ban on skinfold tests across its pathways systems. Pic: Getty

Gardner said she mistakenly thought such an approach was "what it took to become a pro athlete" as she looked to break into the AFLW. “I wore that weight loss like a f***ing gold medal at the time. I was so proud of myself. In hindsight it was unhealthy," she added.

Matthew Lloyd and Kane Cornes disagree with skinfold ban

Despite the obvious mental health and body consciousness issues around the skinfold debate, many former AFL players such as Lloyd and Cornes do not agree with the bans. Both believe the tests are an effective way of preparing players for the rigours of the sport at the highest level and the toll the game takes on the body.

“I’ve never known a player in my time that didn’t take it for what it was,” Lloyd told Nine's Footy Classified after declaring "the world’s gone mad" in response to the skinfold bans. “I was above the level for a period of time... (it was) a massive wake-up call and you’ll be training the next six Sundays until you get yourself right.”


Cornes questioned whether banning skinfold tests for young players was the ideal way to set them up to play at the top level of the sport. "You have to wonder whether that prepares them the best possible way for the challenges that they are going to face once they get into the system," he said.

Wilson said the AFL's new memo stated that: "Body composition assessments (excluding height and weight) will not be conducted in any talent pathways programs or on any athletes that are eligible to compete in the pathways programs. Body weights will only be measured by qualified high performance/sport scientists, sports dietitians, or medical practitioners, in a safe and private setting. All data collected must be kept private."