Who could forget the image of Indigenous Australian Football League (AFL) player, Nicky Winmar, lifting his jumper and pointing to his black skin in defiance of racist taunts from the Collingwood cheer squad? The AFL was disgraced by that exposure of the racism Indigenous and other players of colour are subjected to, on and off the field. This year, women abused by footy stars of both major football codes aren’t taking it anymore, either. They’re also demanding justice. The response of both AFL and Rugby Union officials has been disgraceful.
After a woman said that she had been raped by six Canterbury-Bankstown rugby league players, other women have revealed that they also had been raped or abused by rugby players. Club administrators tried to convince a disgusted public that the victims asked for it. When this didn’t work, the discussion about the Canterbury rapes focused on the distinction between consensual group sex and a “gang bang.” Thanks to the intervention of feminists, the spotlight shifted to the hatred of women — and queers — that is deeply embedded in football culture. The AFL has had similar claims against its players.
If we were to put these sports under the microscope, our findings would end up horribly flawed unless we look at sport as a mirror of society. Just look at Channel Nine’s two Footy Shows. Both are oblivious to women’s sporting achievements. They advertise profit-driven male sports. However their sponsors understand that overt racism doesn’t sell well at the moment. But denigrating older people, patronising youth, laughing at the disabled, and vilifying queers is fine. So these shows highlight players which fit stereotypes of what men are meant to be: young, straight, white, able-bodied and virile “heroes.”
By setting these guys up as stars, “official” sport can generate millions in profit for sponsors. Sporting “idols” are paid big bucks to sell everything from cars to shaving cream to mobile phones. They’re commodities, groomed to think they’re untouchable. On the field they ridicule opponents with homophobic taunts, racist abuse and, where that doesn’t work, physical violence. They then take this as a licence to sexually harass and rape women.
Profit breeds abuse. The logic of capitalist sport is that women should not be participants, but spectators, cheerleaders, and fundraisers. Oh, and trophies on the arms of heroes at award nights. And any women who supports the sport is “fair game” for the sexual predation of these heroes. Heroes? — yeah, right!
Between 1997 and 1999, twelve hundred Victorian women brought charges of rape. Only 367 made it to court; there were 84 convictions. Is this because the women’s claims were false or unproveable? Hardly. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is the courts’ gatekeeper in most states. The office reflects patriarchal law. Despite overwhelming evidence in the Canterbury case, the NSW DPP refused to prosecute — for lack of credible evidence. Translation: “it’s one raped woman versus six football idols — case closed!”
Women Warriors. Cathy Freeman beat racism and sexism to win Olympic gold in Sydney. Susie Moroney beat sexism and anti-communism to swim from Mexico to Cuba. Sportswomen are winners! Despite that, young women have to fight to play AFL footy in mixed gender teams, women rugby players are treated as a joke and Muslim soccer players wearing the hijab are sent off by xenophobic referees.
Every victim of sexual assault needs our total support — especially those who stand up and fight — because their victories give strength to women who have so far endured in silence. Both the footy boys’ club and the sexist, racist legal system must be made accountable. But we have to take it further: abuse, in whatever form, will not disappear until profit is taken out of sport. Under capitalism, sport is a heavily bankrolled parody of what we once did: testing ourselves against each other while having fun!
Memo to sponsors of macho sportsblokes: Sexual predators are losers — don’t back them. Women are not trophies or prizes.