AFL launches a women's code but can it stand up to Eddie McGuire? - Women's Agenda

AFL launches a women’s code but can it stand up to Eddie McGuire?

Last week the AFL unveiled the eight teams that will play in its inaugural 2017 women’s competition.

That was a historic moment for women in the sport, and came as the code also ran a White Ribbon match between the Western Bulldogs and Geelong, supporting the anti-domestic violence charity. These are significant investments acknowledging women are as much a part of the game as men.

Here’s what else happened last week: A bunch of influential AFL men, including Collingwood President Eddie McGuire, engaged in ‘banter’ suggesting a female journalist should be held under water and drowned.

Because, ha! Suggesting violence against women is so entertaining! Especially against one who dares to step up as an influential reporter and broadcaster in the sport, often annoying those who’ve long held their positions of power off the field.  

During the exchange with the all-male panel (don’t we love those) on radio station Triple M, McGuire joked that Fairfax journalist Caroline Wilson should be held under water until she “doesn’t get up”.

Referring to the Big Freeze at the MCG, where celebrities and sports people slide into a pool of iced water to raise money for charity, McGuire said: “I reckon we should start the campaign for a one-person slide next year. Caroline Wilson. And I’ll put in 10 grand straight away – make it $20,000. And if she stays under, $50,000.”

Following that comment, All Australian selector Danny Frawley added his two cents worth, saying: “I’ll actually jump in and make sure she doesn’t [get up] — I’ll hold her under, Ed.” Yeah Ed! Asked what he thought of the idea, North Melbourne chairman James Brayshaw said he would be “straight in” as well. The laughs continued between them (listen to the audio, they can barely contain their self-congratulatory amusement). Bet you’re wondering why you’ve never tuned in on a Monday for such blistering entertainment. One of the most awarded female sports journos — and one of very few women to have such a high profile — is a little too difficult for the men to handle, and so they resort to violent language, all for the good of their radio listeners of course. That being a predominantly all-male audience that could probably do without hearing such misogynistic banter.

While the comments were made a week ago, they had seemingly gone unnoticed until social media picked up on what was said over the weekend. The fact they went unnoticed for days says much about the audience listening to such a show: are they that socialised to hearing such jokes that they don’t care? it was a blogpost by sports journalist Erin Riley that finally got people talking. A number of comments on that post claim the banter wouldn’t be an issue if it had been said about a male journalist. But the fact is that it was said about a female journalist, and when one in three women will experience domestic violence at some point in their lifetimes, such language matters. 

A number of influential AFL types have already slammed the remarks, including former players and two club presidents. The AFL’s also released a statement saying the comments were inappropriate and that “although seeking to be lighthearted” they could be seen to “support violent attitudes against women”.

The AFL’s statement was frankly too soft for how seriously irresponsible these comments were. It proves that while it can invest in a women’s league and offer plenty of rhetoric around its efforts to eliminate violence against women, it’s still got work to do when it comes to dealing with the most influential men in the sport. 

Creating an inclusive AFL where women feel welcome is necessary and will take a lot of work and investment.

But words — especially words from a man who can be CEO and maintain a media career at the same time — should be easy.

We know plenty of great consultants in the diversity space who can help McGuire with his words, but really it’s not that hard. Jokes about violence against women are not ok.

As for the AFL, well it did some groundbreaking stuff on launching a women’s league, but then it lets public comments promoting violence against women slip as a ‘clearly inappropriate’ attempt at humour.

If the AFL can’t stand up to Eddie McGuire, we’re certainly glad that journalists like Caroline Wilson can.

In the meantime, we suggest McGuire’s $50,000 be donated to a good cause, like White Ribbon. 

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