The not-so-grand final: When sport and domestic violence come head to head

Police expected an increase in domestic and non-domestic violence on grand final weekend. Photo: Kirsty Wilson

By KIRSTY WILSON

AFL and NRL grand final weekend saw a spike in calls to domestic violence counselling hotlines and shelters.

Victoria Police and domestic violence organisations are also expecting an increase in domestic violence incidents on Melbourne Cup Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.

National sexual assault and domestic violence helpline service 1800RESPECT said they had a 10 per cent increase in calls and online chats over the grand final weekend.

Victoria Police said the grand finals usually sparked an increase in family violence incidents. 

Emily Maguire

Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria CEO Emily Maguire said while these statistics showed an increase, it was impossible to know just how big the increase was.

“Women often don’t report abuse, so the data can’t be conclusive.”

Ms Maguire said gender inequality in the AFL was the main cause of the link between match day and increased  domestic abuse.

“AFL is a hyper-masculine space,” she said.

“Although we see more women involved in the AFL than ever before, it’s still a predominantly masculine sport – which would be contributing.”

VicHealth principal program officer for mental wellbeing Natalie Russell said sporting events could bring disrespect towards women to the surface.

 said alcohol doesn't cause domestic violence. Photo: VicHealth
Natalie Russell

“It’s not really the sport itself causing the violence, it’s the gender inequality,” she said.

“So those men who are perpetrating the violence will be holding views and beliefs that are disrespectful towards women and that’s playing out in terms of their aggression and their sense of entitlement around those sporting events.”

Ms Russell said the link between sporting events and domestic violence had been seen before.

“There is a growing body of evidence that shows a link between major sporting events and spikes in violence against women not only here in Australia but internationally as well,” she said.

“I know that in the UK they experience the same thing around soccer and also in the USA they experience a similar event when it comes to their national rugby.

“It’s definitely an unfortunate phenomenon that we see around the world.”

While alcohol is often involved, it’s not the cause of the violence, she said.

“Some people drink alcohol and aren’t violent, but if a man has particularly poor attitudes around disrespect to women then that alcohol can fuel that disrespect and increases the severity and likelihood of that violence.” 

Researcher at the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research Michael Livingston said international studies  had found  an increase in domestic violence regardless of the match result.

“Studies around the English soccer team found that when their team lost things got worse, but there were spikes in these problems on the game day regardless.”

A campaign in England  this year highlighted the link between sport and domestic violence. Photo: National Centre for Domestic Violence

Mr Livingston said alcohol’s role in sporting culture should be addressed.

“It’s a pretty reasonable assumption that at least part of the link between the big football matches and the violence is about drinking that goes on around the game,” Mr Livingston said.

“As a first step, some of the alcohol sponsorship and advertising around these games is pretty intense and it would be at least a step in the right direction symbolically if it wasn’t so clear that alcohol was central to these events.”

GETTING HELP

If you or someone you know is affected by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732
or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au 
If you or someone you know is perpetrating violent behaviour, ring  Men's Referral Service 1300 766 491
In an emergency, call 000