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Sport needs to face domestic violence

Jelena Dokic is one of many victims of violence against women in sport. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File)
Roar Guru
5th January, 2018
6

We will remember 2017 for the rise of Sam Kerr and the Matildas, the launch of AFLW and the widespread acknowledgement of Ellyse Perry as a bona fide star.

But 2017 will also be remembered as the year of, among other, #metoo – when the entertainment industry was forced to face the reality of assault against women behind closed doors.

As inhabitants of the world of sport we need to ask ourselves the question: are we ready for our own #metoo? Can we handle the band-aid being ripped off, exposing the ugly wound underneath?

First a reality check. Our Watch tells us that:

  • On average one woman is killed by a current or former partner every week
  • One in three women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15
  • One in five women has experienced sexual violence

Sport cannot escape this problem. Whether it is the local club or the top level sport is such an integral part of our society that it would be foolish to think we can put our heads in the sand and consider it as a form of escapism from the everyday.

In fact, as a micro-society, sport is particularly vulnerable. There is a cocktail of machismo, alcohol and delegated power – for example, coach power over participants. The times and places sport takes place can often make the vulnerable easy prey.

The Jelena Dokic story should be a reality check for all of us, but particularly elite sport. Her own father verbally abused, physically beaten and emotionally tore her apart in front of our collective eyes.

People knew. Tennis Australia has revealed they had referred the matter to police, and in a particularly harrowing article, Richard Hinds from Offsiders shows us how the industry did not deal with it.

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The statement from Tennis Australia was particularly disappointing, the basic theme being that they have policies and referred it to the police, wiped their hands and carried on. It is fair to say that the Tennis Australia policies failed, and the reality is that most sports are not much better.

For all the AFL’s talk of women’s football and female presidents we still have Wayne Carey, previously charged with indecently assaulting a woman and later engaged in other scandals, as a commentator, and Collingwood president Eddie McGuire, who said he would pay for Caroline Wilson to be held underwater, with other lads gleefully joining in.

The scary part of all this is that if we can’t get it right at the very top level, what hope does the local hockey club president have?

There is some hope. Every time Ellyse Perry plays or Alison Mitchell commentates or Raelene Castle fronts a new conference, they chip away at the perception that women are inferior. Young girls getting into sport are slowly seeing more opportunities than netball, tennis and canteen duty.

The problem is that there is very little acknowledgement at the other end of the scale. As participants of sport and, indeed, as a society, we all need to be aware that this stuff happens. It needs to be a broad conversation, not just one driven by victims.

Unfortunately, part of the reason I wrote this was the lack of commentary on the issue on The Roar. If there ever was a time to start the conversation here, it was after the Dokic story.

All levels of sport need the tools to deal with violence against women. At the very top, there needs to be an acknowledgement that dealing with violence against women isn’t a commercial choice, PR excuse or box-ticking exercise; it is a responsibility that comes with being so prominent in all our lives.

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