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Opinion

Online trolls Badgering female referees confirm misogyny is well and truly alive in rugby league

1st September, 2023
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1st September, 2023
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Belinda Sharpe and Kasey Badger’s appointments to NRL matches in Round 27 as the first women to take on the role as single referees in the competition should have been met with accolades across the board.

Plenty of fans are happy for both, yet the vicious misogyny and nastiness of a small portion of the competition’s supporters has also managed to crawl out from the rock under which it lives.

It appears no matter what transpires in the game, whether it be the matches themselves, off-field incidents, personal matters, mental health challenges or continued efforts to advance women in league, a swathe of online trolls are standing by with nothing more than an intent to offend.

As humans in a digital age, they are the worst of the worst. Sadly, as much as we all would prefer to simply ignore them in the hope that they just go away and take their negativity elsewhere, that approach clearly does not work.

It is no fun to write about them either, yet simply allowing people to spew venomous and uninformed opinions that do reputational and personal damage, without being called out and exposed, is a dereliction of duty for one employed to cover the game.

This time, it is Badger’s turn in the ringer, after her appointment to the Titans versus Bulldogs clash at Cbus Super Stadium on the Gold Coast this Sunday.

You would think Canterbury fans would have enough on their minds, watching their team implode before their very eyes amidst walkouts, disunity and obvious fractures within the club. But no, quite a number still found time to have a swipe at Badger, and women, on social media after the announcement was made.

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After serving a long apprenticeship, it is time for Kasey Badger to take sole control of an NRL men’s match in Round 27. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

General comments around her level of competence is one thing and perhaps to be expected in league considering just how many times the officials and the commission embarrass themselves with head-scratching interpretations and decisions.

However, the personal and sexist nature of some of the insults delivered yesterday completely cross the line and reflect a bogan element in the NRL community that frankly, most cannot wait to see removed. In an online Bulldogs forum, that element was quite easy to identify.

“Imagine being promoted just because of your sex”, spruiked one undeniable genius. He had back-up: “She doesn’t even seem to know the rules. I’m all for equality, but they have to be able to do their job properly.”

It got even worse. “Sheila’s refereeing. Sheila’s going by our efforts against Manly”, and “Why is she not being at (sic) ref in the NRLW league. That’s what it’s there for woman.”

My goodness.

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As I read on, I hoped the above were just outlying examples of utter disrespect towards women, yet amongst all the normal comments citing referees hating certain clubs, requiring guide dogs and essentially being corrupt in their application of the rules, there was plenty more.

Blatant sexism was also on show, “She will penalise them for something they did in Round 1”, backed up by another, “Probably gonna start penalising the boys for things they did 6 weeks ago”, perhaps insinuating that women hold grudges far more emphatically than men in a poor example of gender stereotyping.

Another made a separate attempt to do the same, “Doesn’t matter what happens. Everyone will be wrong”.

The intellect of the people responsible for such offensive nonsense online is perhaps summed up best by one comment I found, “Hope she gets covid and one of the spectators has to officiate the game.” The depth of stupidity required to merely type that sentence is simply mind blowing.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 13: Olivia Kernick of the Roosters is tackled during the round four NRLW match between Cronulla Sharks and Sydney Roosters at PointsBet Stadium on August 13, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Despite on-line trolls, there is much to celebrate in the NRLW and NRL, including the advancement of female officials in the game. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Women were once treated as such in the round-ball game. The recent Women’s World Cup showed just how far attitudes have evolved, with our Matildas excellent ambassadors and inspirations for the current and next generation of female players.

It appears there are still considerable elements within the NRL community yet to grasp the plain fact that the game’s future relies on a successful cross-pollination of the sexes in it.

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Both leagues need to produce a quality product on the field, women and men need to be officiating, commentating and reporting across both, and as soon as the administrative arm of the game contains an increased number of female voices the more assured its future will be.

It is modern sport 101 really, yet sadly, it does appear that we still need to drag some very ignorant people into the 21st century even though it’s 2023.

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