What Are Sporting Clubs Doing To End Violence Against Women?

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New allegations of domestic violence involving Australian rugby league players have reignited conversations around sport, and the role it could play in reducing incidents of abuse.

So, what happened here, and what are sporting clubs doing to stop this harmful behaviour?

Just a note, this episode will contain incidences of domestic violence, if that will make you uncomfortable please feel free to give it a miss.

What’s Just Happened?

The Australian published an article accusing the South Sydney Rabbitohs of covering up a former player’s alleged drug use and domestic violence.

Sam Burgess (the player named in the article) has since resigned. He denied the claims and threatened defamation action against News Corp, while the Rabbitohs have released a statement claiming they are treating the matter very seriously, reaffirming their stance against violence, harassment or abuse against women.

Why This Is A Cultural Problem

The Australian article argued that the Rabbitoh’s handling of the accusations is at the heart of a wider cultural problem, where sporting clubs are failing to address the welfare of not only their athletes, but also their families.

And while it’s hard to speak directly about Burgess himself, we can look at how the NRL as a whole, has responded so far.

What Was The NRL’s Response?

Patty Kinnersly: “They really quickly came out and said that they reject all forms of violence against women. So that’s a really important first step they’ve undertaken … now they are also working with the police, because the claims are with the police.”

The new chairman of the NRL has said that the organisation is in the middle of a cultural review, because there’s actually a long list of accusations against players that occurred before this one.

Most clubs now have mandatory cultural programs for all senior and youth players, to educate them on the potential toxicity of the masculine attitudes that have long been withstanding in rugby league. 

There’s also a new ‘no-fault stand down’ policy, which means if a player is charged with a serious criminal offence, they are immediately stood down until all criminal proceedings are concluded.

But critics are arguing over whether the policy is more about protecting brand image and shielding the player. After all, under this policy players are still given full pay and are allowed to train until proven guilty.

What Kind Of Role Does Australian Sport Play In Preventing Domestic Violence?

Some people believe that these big sporting organisations simply need to be educated further about the ethical responsibilities they hold as workplaces, and how they can play a huge role in preventing violence against women.

PK: “It’s about making sure that the NRL in this conversation, is creating a workplace and a whole code that promotes and normalises gender equality. So respect for women – what does it look like in the way your board runs? What does it looks like in the way your staff or organisation runs? And what does it look like for people who play your sport, who coach, who are at the canteen, who sponsor your organisation, right through to all the people who watch it?”

Domestic violence isn’t just a rugby league problem. On average one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner in Australia.

But Patty believes sport has the popularity to really address an issue like domestic violence.

PK: “Leaders of these sports need to make a stand. It’s not ok just to say I don’t believe in violence against women and I’m a good person and that’s really bad. There has to be more to it than that.”

All this isn’t to say that there aren’t good things happening in sport.

New guidelines for the inclusion of transgender athletes have recently been created across many sports. And Netball Australia pledged to break down the barriers that have prevented Indigenous and diverse players from nationally representing the sport.

The Takeaway

The NRL is arguably one of Australia’s most proactive sporting codes cracking down on violence against women. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a long way to go in undoing decades of cultural toxicity that have led to incidents of domestic violence.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit In an emergency, call 000.