The current scandal about the Richmond player who launched a picture of a topless female friend wearing his AFL Grand Final medal on social media, even after she requested for the image to be deleted, continues to bite. Peter Fitzsimons and fellow Channel 9 sports show host, Emma Freedman, went hard at each on the Sunday program after Freedman offered some “just don’t take your clothes off,” advice to the victim of the posting.
The tendency for many in the public to either blame the victim or take an “oh… it wasn’t as bad as all that,” approach to such events was a shock to me. I thought that in society, in general, and specifically in sport, we had moved well beyond that point. Apparently not!
This was confirmed for me later in the day at the Byron Bay Rugby 7s tournament that I dropped by to photograph. In between the three playing fields the various clubs, who were guests at the tournament, had their tents erected. One tent caught my attention. This tent stood between the dead ball line of one of the pitches and the one concrete path that bisects the Byron Bay Recreation Ground. Over a period of five minutes I heard the men in the tent, firstly, cat-call and hoot at a small group of women who were strolling down the path behind the tent, then, secondly, make derogatory and patronizing comments to a woman who scored a try on the field in front of the tent.
In truth, I could have read the situation all wrong. The cat-calls and smart-arsed banter might have had nothing to do with the women and the player. They might have been directed towards some other event that I was not aware off. But… I don’t think so! Again, I was shocked.
Sadly, though, it wasn’t until I had left the place that I realized that my silence made me guilty too. I could have walked over to the tent and stated politely that intimidating, abusing, making women feel uncomfortable and possibly even frightening women was unacceptable and breached the standards of their sport (and any other sport, for that matter). My failure to do so was also unacceptable. Someone should have spoken up. It didn’t occur to me that that someone should have been me. Silence is not good enough!
This story is in no way critical of the Byron Bay Rugby 7s event. The tournament, as far as I can tell, is a great community event that encourages the love of sport and fitness among men and women equally. The atmosphere of fun, excitement and community spirit… along with a terrific standard of rugby from the women and the men make this a very special event. It’s just a shame that some clubs don’t demonstrate the culture of mutual respect that others do.
Several weeks ago, I was at Leichhardt Oval photographing and reporting on the Koori Knockout Rugby League Tournament hosted, this year, by the Redfern All Blacks in Sydney. I must say that in the time I spent at Leichhardt the sense that men, women, adolescents and children who play Rugby League all deserved equal respect from those in attendance was ever present. While the games were competitive, the tries terrific and the hits hard at both tournaments the sense of a warm, accepting and respectful community in action was much stronger at the Rugby League event than it was at the 7s. I can’t help wondering whether the fact that the Koori Knockout was a drug and alcohol-free carnival while the Byron tournament actually had a substantial bar erected at the grounds contributed to the difference in atmosphere between the events. Still, alcohol is no excuse for men to be disrespectful to women.