Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett has threatened the AFL with legal action after the Hawks were one of four clubs asked by the league to provide more information for an AFLW bid.
Kennett accused the league of 'discrimination' after the Hawks, Port Adelaide, Essendon and Sydney were all required to submit more details on their readiness and support for the women's league.
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The sixth AFLW season will begin in December this year, with the 14 existing teams to contest 10 home-and-away rounds and a three-week finals series, culminating in a mid-March grand final in 2022.
AFLW will also be brought forward on the calendar next season in order to give it clear air and avoid a scheduling overlap with the AFL.
While the league has committed to having all 18 teams in the competition by 2023, Kennett was nevertheless adamant the Hawks were ready to play this season, telling Channel 7's Tom Browne the decision was 'a disgrace'.
“Again the AFL is discriminating against four clubs," he said.
“Their charter is to govern in the interests of all 18 clubs equally.
“It is another example of no leadership by the AFL, simply deferring decision-making and making sure if any of the four clubs are admitted (that) they can’t prepare professionally.”
The outspoken Hawthorn president's stance hasn't always pleased rival clubs.
After winning the 2021 AFLW premiership, Brisbane Lions coach Craig Starcevich openly said Kennett needed to 'back off'.
“If Jeff’s banging the door down saying ‘give us a team’ I would say ‘back off’,” he said.
“Where were you four years ago when we had to put the initial applications in? So just hold off ... we need this competition to get nice and strong and grow really well before we think about adding clubs.”
AFLW confirms expansion to all 18 teams by 2023
With expansion from 14 to 18 teams, the AFLW player pool will grow from 420 to 540 within two years.
But McLachlan and AFL general manager of women's football Nicole Livingstone dismissed concerns over the talent pool being further stretched.
"You've got a lot of girls coming through that have now played right through from Auskick to AFLW and there's a lot of girls coming through the system," Livingstone said.
"We've invested heavily in the talent pathways and those now look very equal to the boys' pathways.
"We're very proud of that piece of work that we've done to accelerate those girls coming through the system."
The AFL is yet to finalise the AFLW competition structure beyond next season or rules around player contracting and recruiting in the lead-up to the expansion phase.
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