Words || Erin Christie
[Content warning: mentions of abuse/domestic violence]
I’d be one of the first to say that sport, in some ways, can be pretty great. It was a staple in my upbringing, and the pride, passion, and joy associated with following a team can often be unlike any other kind of support. Not only has it connected and divided my family in debates over referee calls and cheers over unexpected wins, sport has often connected the world in unexpected ways. We see this at the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup, even the teeny tiny and mostly insignificant Commonwealth Games brought multiple wins and much subsequent Australian pride earlier this year. However, the connectivity and celebration are barely recognisable in our corner of the world right now.
The State of Origin is an annual competition between Queensland and New South Wales or the ‘Maroons’ and ‘Blues’ within the National Rugby League. Players are collected from their various teams and put forward as a squad to play three games spanning throughout June and July. Those that win two of the three are named the champions for the year. It’s a big deal among the men and women who love their NRL in these states. It’s a big draw for gamblers, and alcohol consumption is rife, as with most big Australian sporting events. However, this year, the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has released a report showing that instances of domestic violence increase by 40.7% on Origin night. Instances of non-domestic violence increase by 71.8%. What is it about these nights that causes so much violence?
The answer of course is that these nights don’t cause the violence, the perpetrators do. Domestic violence is currently at epidemic levels within Australia, with multiple sources agreeing that at least one woman is killed every week at the hands of an intimate partner or someone else close to her. But why the spike? It’s easy to connect the instances of violence to public health issues such as alcohol consumption, or failures in regard to gambling. However, a connection is not an excuse.
Professor Catharine Lumby works in the Media Department at Macquarie University, and is also an advisor to the NRL on cultural change. Within this role, she develops education programs for the players that allow them insight into assault, harassment and domestic violence. She is well versed in the ways that this sport and manifestations of violence and harm are interlinked.
“There are lots of people who can drink alcohol and not become violent, and not harass or assault other people. So, we want to be very careful of letting men who commit – and it is very overwhelmingly men – domestic violence off the hook by saying ‘well, he was drunk” she explains to me. I couldn’t agree more. However, when faced with a seemingly insurmountable issue such as domestic violence, I’m wondering how we move forward with the problem.
“Where we really need to place responsibility firmly is on the men who perpetrate domestic violence… And we need prevention programs and education in place very young so that we are not giving men excuses,” Lumby tells me. I ask where she thinks this education should take place. It is her belief that it should be taught in schools, as early as kindergarten. “The primary cause of domestic violence is an attitude that women and children are the property of men,” Lumby says. How else do you change an ingrained message built over so many years, that may well culminate in expressions of violence and toxicity? “We have quite effective anti-bullying programs now, but we need to expand that and to talk about what it looks like to care for others around you,” Lumby points out, and to me it seems very straightforward. However, it’s a difficult pill to swallow for many who believe the seriousness of the world must be kept from the eyes and ears of innocent youth. However, culture plays out on a continuum and the actions of an individual may be the cultivation of all they have learned; so why not make them learn about complete and total respect?
The State of Origin is not some kind of negative force. It brings people together for banter, beers and celebration, and it is possible to see the positivity it creates. However, it needs to go hand in hand with the promotion of safety, management of disappointment and anger, and education for young Australians in order to halt our domestic violence epidemic in its’ tracks.