Every year, when the AFL and NRL grand final weekend rolls around, reports of family and domestic violence increase.
This year, the danger is very real for women and children in Victoria, with most people set to spend the weekend confined to their homes. The state’s primary family violence prevention body, Respect Victoria, is warning there may be a compounding effect of the finals season and pandemic restrictions.
Tracey Gaudry, CEO of Respect Victoria, says there is a powerful opportunity for leaders in the AFL and NRL to contribute to the prevention of family violence, and violence against women.
“The research is clear – gender inequality is one of the biggest drivers of family violence,” Gaudry told Women’s Agenda.
“By addressing sexism and outdated attitudes and behaviours, we can stop this violence before it starts – and sporting culture can play a big part in this.”
Gaudry says sport runs in Australia’s DNA, and its players, commentators and leaders have great potential for positive influence.
“By starting to challenge outdated ideas about masculinity and gender, male players and leaders can encourage fans to lead with respect,” she said.
“At its roots, sporting culture in Australia can and does promote unhealthy stereotypes, rigid forms of masculinity and sets up false expectations around what it is to ‘be a man’. These attitudes and behaviours are harmful to both men and women.
“The research tells us that men who subscribe to outdated ideas of masculinity and gender stereotypes are more likely to use violence against women.”
Gaudry is deeply familiar with the sporting world. She’s a former Olympic cyclist and in 2017, became the woman to head up an AFL club, as CEO of Hawthorn. From personal experience, she’s certain that diversity in decision-making in sport is fundamental to improving outcomes in areas like violence against women.
“Sports like the AFL and NRL were built by and for men, and it takes time to undo that,” Gaudry said.
“But we cannot keep using ‘tradition’ or ‘it’s always been done that way, change means more work or cost’ or ‘that could cost me my seat at the table’ as reasons to condone a system that is discriminatory towards people based on gender or other personal characteristics.
“We’ve seen male-dominated sporting codes take significant steps to improve equality in recent years, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Respect Victoria is also calling on sports fans to be mindful of the way they talk about, and relate to sport this finals season.
“It might seem like a sexist joke thrown around amongst friends isn’t going to hurt anyone – whether you’re with a group of women or men – but we know that those kinds of stereotypes can be where violence begins,” Gaudry says.
“Whether it’s calling out a team or player whose behaviour isn’t okay, calling out a friend’s sexist jokes while you’re watching a game, or thinking about how you talk about gender and sport in front of the kids.”
The growth of women’s sport has changed the sporting landscape in Australia over recent years, and its visibility can help shift the dial when it comes to improving gender equality.
“Women playing and working in sport at all levels is powerful and helps set the agenda for the kind of society we want to be.”
If you or someone you know if in immediate danger, call 000. If you need help and advice call 1800Respect on 1800 737 732, Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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