To the National Rugby League (NRL):
The last few weeks have been difficult to process.
Since the beginning of 2015 the media has reported 21 allegations of assault involving NRL players, with women being victims in 11 instances.
Violence against women is not uncommon in Australia nor is it in the world of sports. On average in Australia, 1 woman every week is murdered by her current or former partner. With the recent behaviour of NRL players in mind, this statistic continues to rise across the country as I write to you now.
Many will ask “what about men?” The cold hard truth is that both women and men are more likely to experience violence at the hands of men, with 95% of all victims of violence in Australia reporting a male perpetrator.
As a young Australian Tongan man raised in Sydney and now residing in the Rugby League heartland of Brisbane, Rugby has always been a glorified sport and rightly so. Rugby’s ability to unite people of all different cultures, backgrounds and walks of life is second to none. As a fan and proud player of the game, I feel conflicted by these recent events.
During the week, I work as Youth Worker in domestic and family violence prevention for the R4Respect program — run by non-profit charitable agency YFS Ltd — and on the weekends, I play and watch the game and idolise many of its greats. It’s extremely hard to come to terms with the reality that your childhood sport heroes are alleged perpetrators of domestic violence. Although I understand some players involved are yet to be proven guilty in a court of law, it’s still very hard to process.
I ask myself; should these individual players take all the blame for their actions and be the only ones held responsible? Shouldn’t we as fans, players, organisations and as men take some responsibility?
Should we also blame the culture of clubs, the culture of the game?
Is it the same toxic culture that encourages us men at a young age to ‘man up’? The same culture that encourages coaches or fans to verbally abuse young boys with ‘”you play like a girl!” and “don’t be so soft!“? The culture that places sport stars on such a highly regarded pedestal with equally high expectations, yet fails to provide these men with the resources, tools or education to be positive, healthy leaders and respectful partners?
As a player and a fan, it is this very culture of the game that I am ashamed to be a part of.
In the lead up to the 2019 season there has been talks about boycotting the NRL. I don’t however believe this will be effective. I don’t believe in punishing the many players and dreams due to the actions of a few.
I strongly believe in the need of a culture change. Rugby is a great game. I believe in the game and I believe that as men, it is our obligation to teach one another about equality and respect.
It is important as male leaders and influencers that we are educated on toxic masculinity and equipped with the tools to address the issue.
I challenge the National Rugby League and send a call to action to any club who is willing to join the change. I will continue to educate young men in respect and respectful relationships in hopes of ending sexual assault and domestic and family violence in Australia. I plead with you to join me.
The R4Respect team provide a peer to peer education and prevention strategy to counter violence in relationships. Our team would be very willing to work with the NRL (or specific NRL clubs) to provide young men with the resources needed to be healthy, respectful men. This month we completed an evaluation of our program in schools (funded by ANROWS, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety). I welcome an opportunity to discuss ways in which young people can be both the targets for, and agents of change, in reducing violence off-the-field.
Youth Worker at R4Respect
Kinsella, L. (2019, February 8). The 66 scandals in four years that have rocked the NRL. From news.com.au: https://www.news.com.au/sport/nrl/the-66-scandals-in-four-years-that-have-rocked-the-nrl/news-story/61bc26cdb901a29fa70defc8c7ba01b5
Our Watch. Facts and Figures. From Our Watch: https://www.ourwatch.org.au/Understanding-Violence/Facts-and-figures