VILIFYING WOMEN ON THE FOOTBALL FIELD
Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt*
Football clubs and the law have at last begun to come to grips
with racial vilification on the ground and amongst the players.
What are the chances of vilification of women taking centre-stage,
or even being considered seriously?
When Michael Long was called a 'black cunt' by a fellow (sic)
player, the AFL was at long last galvanised into action. Mediation
was hastily convened between the players. Although initially the
offender seemed reluctant to acknowledge any offense, the incident
precipitated changes that have affected Aussie rules football
ever since. A 'code of conduct' now ensures that on and off the
field, racial (and racist) epithets against opponents are unsporting.
Now, in every state and territory, anti-discrimination laws target
'group defamation'. They make racist speech unlawful and provide
redress for people vilified because they belong to racial or ethnic
The New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Act says a person, by
a public act, must not incite hatred towards, serious contempt
for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the
ground of the race of the person or members of the group. A fair
report of a public act, or acts done reasonably and in good faith
for academic, artistic, scientific or research purposes or in
the public interest are not caught by this provision. But odious
remarks made about people on the football field, the tennis court
and elsewhere are now caught by the law, and can be punished.
Around Australia, people who are offended in this way can seek
compensation through commissions, courts and tribunals.
Yet what if women are vilified, smothered in obscenities, or
forced to participate in a public world where sexual contempt
and ridicule are seen as the everyday right of the good bloke
in the pub and sporting arena? What redress is there for the woman
who believes respect is her right, and calling women whores or
cunts is an affront?
The offense to women, and particularly Aboriginal women, contained
in shouts on the football field about 'black cunts', was never
acknowledged by the AFL. There is no 'code of conduct' governing
vilification of women in what players do and say to each other
on the ground.
When Wayne Carey was accused of indecent assault in Melbourne,
in the nightclub end of King Street, team mates spoke out on his
behalf. Some accused the woman of having been drinking with him
earlier, and turning on Carey when he refused to grant her his
sexual 'favours'. Far from it. The truth was that she, a stranger
walking down the street, had her breast squeezed by this 'famous'
footy player, whilst he admonished: 'Why don't you go and get
a bigger set of tits?'
At about the same time, another sportsman was reported urinating
on two women on the dancefloor. Their crime? They preferred dancing
with one another to dancing with him.
Six years on, the breast-squeezing ex-captain's got his comeuppance
for sleeping with a team mate's wife. Even then, the AFL may take
pity on him, now portrayed as a man who made a mistake, a 'lonely
figure' in Wagga Wagga. 'It was just a slip
' 'An accident
waiting to happen
And why not restore him to former glories? Even now, rehabilitation's
in the wings.
A mere peccadillo, a mishap.
This has nothing to do with women's rights. It's all to do with
mateship and who owns what.
Squeezing the breast of a protesting stranger is not an issue.
Engaging in a consenting sexual relationship with the vice-captain's
These episodes confirm the sporting world's traditionalism. Despite
individual exceptions, the dominant message is twofold, and it's
endemic. First, do to women what you want, treat them as you wish,
so long as you're not found out. And, if you are, ensure it's
not a team-mate's wife. Secondly, if you must call fellow players
names, racism's out, but sexism doesn't count. Autonomous women
Yet, can we wonder that vilification of women is not taken seriously,
on or off the field, when this very week we've been regaled by
press tales of 'the greatest Australian Prime Minister next to
Menzies', a real boy-oh, worthy of praise. One of the measures?
'He once told Parliament that he was sick of television series
trying to make some incomprehensible arty-crafty point; what he
wanted was action, and especially lots of private eyes monstering
That this riposte receives overwhelming publicity in today's
media, in the first years of the twenty-first century, shows how
far women haven't come, and how much further many men have to
No wonder women despair at ever being taken seriously. So long
as women are seen as the legitimate targets of drunken sportsmen,
an excuse for poor prime ministerial 'wit', or a method of denying
opponents' manhood in the sporting arena, we are all the losers.
Tasmania's Anti-Discrimination Act does cover the vilification
of women, the only law in Australia to do so. The Act condemns
inciting hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule
of women as promiscuous, whores and dykes.
When other states take similar action, women may yet be on the
way to achieving equality. Perhaps more tellingly, when the AFL
and other sporting bodies withdraw support from players who use
fame and glory to express contempt for women, the respect women
deserve and these men deny them may make sportsmanship mean something.
Jocelynne A. Scutt is a barrister and former Tasmania's Anti-Discrimination