An increase in domestic violence in the wake of a high profile sporting fixture is not a new phenomenon. A study of the 2010 World Cup found that win or lose, domestic violence spiked after England matches.
Alcohol’s contribution to domestic violence is similarly well acknowledged and understood. It is involved in more than 50 per cent of all recorded incidents.
Michael Livingston, Deputy Director at the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research is aware of those linkages as he sifts through data from the Bureau of Crime Statistics.
He examined six years of data from 2012 to 2017, looking not only at the three Origin Wednesdays each year, but the Wednesday’s on either side; 54 dates in total.
In the hours from 6pm on game night to 6am the following morning, assaults rise a staggering 71% and domestic assaults rise over 40%. There is no statistically significant change in the weeks either side of Origin night.
He is shocked by the findings.
“In the twelve-hour window from 6pm to 6am on State of Origin game night, women and children in New South Wales are almost 40 per cent more likely to become victims of domestic violence. This is a significant and consistent spike across the three-game series in each and every one of the years examined.”
— Mamamia (@Mamamia) June 24, 2018
Queensland doesn’t collect data or make it available in the same robust fashion as New South Wales. Dr Livingston, turns instead to his home, Victoria, a State without the same passionate interest in State of Origin to see what was happening on those dates.
“Of note, when we compare those findings with Victoria, a state with less interest in rugby league, the data reveals no statistically significant increase in violent assaults on the dates in question,”
Dr Livingston is quick to make clear that the data doesn’t speak to the other factors at play that are driving the spike in violence on Origin night beyond the very obvious and very real connection to the game.
Dr Melanie Pescud, Research Manager at the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) is less cautious.
“Todd Greenberg and the National Rugby League should be mortified that this is happening on their watch and happening with clockwork-like regularity, and associated with a sporting contest they have stewardship of.”
Dr Pescud goes further.
“You don’t have to look too hard or too far to see what distinguishes this sporting contest from others in the country – violence, tribalism and toxic masculinity collide head-on with aggressive alcohol marketing and promotion and with devastating consequences.”
The Queensland Maroons and New South Wales Blues have been going toe-to-toe since the 1980’s. It’s marketed as Australia’s greatest rivalry. A brutal bloodied body contact sport at the best of times, the violence is celebrated and elevated in State of Origin, as two warring states put everything on the line in the name of state pride.
As the NRL’s current marketing proudly declares, “Nothing hits you like origin”.
It’s an unfortunate and embarrassing tagline in light of the troubling statistics.
With half of all reported #domesticviolence incidents in Australia involving #alcohol, the saturation of alcohol sponsorship in the #StateOfOrigin series and the #NRL more broadly is something the code must addresshttps://t.co/wO8bGQf2wC pic.twitter.com/gYOUzuXFuK
— FARE (@FAREAustralia) June 24, 2018
If there’s one thing marketed more heavily than the violence, it would be alcohol.
FARE Chief Executive Michael Thorn says of all the major Australian sporting contests dripping with excessive alcohol sponsorship, it is Origin that is the most egregious.
“Last year Carlton & United Breweries stepped away briefly; relinquishing the giant VB bullseye that once adorned the NSW player’s chests. Lion, already adorning the QLD uniforms with its XXXX brand was quick to step in. Now Tooheys is displayed on the player’s shorts. And unfortunately, CUB’s exit was more a brief tactical retreat. It’ back now as the official ‘beer of Origin, as if more beer sponsorship was needed or wanted.”
Mr Thorn stresses that none of this, of course, excuses men who commit acts of violence against women and children.
Dr Pescud agrees.
“We need to be very clear when speaking about domestic violence that we are talking about violence perpetrated against women and children by men. Alcohol does not excuse that behaviour, nor, at its root, cause it. This is a complex issue, but there is a silver lining in what is a very dark cloud.”
Dr Pescud says that once we acknowledge and accept that other factors can contribute to and exacerbate domestic violence, then we can look at what action can be taken to address the problem in the short term rather than waiting for generational change.
— FARE (@FAREAustralia) June 21, 2018
Mr Thorn says the NRL cannot be allowed to turn its back on this data.
“Knowing as we do the involvement of alcohol in domestic violence, and seeing how the NRL chooses both to celebrate State of Origin violence and at the same time heavily promote and link alcohol to the game, there is no doubt in mind that the NRL is culpable.
In the same way that alcohol does not give perpetrators of domestic violence an excuse, nor can the NRL turn on its back on these findings.
In the hours during and after the players do battle in State of Origin, rates of domestic violence in New South Wales surge upwards. As long as the NRL clings to its alcohol sponsorship, it will be pouring petrol on a fire and fanning the flames.
Women and children of New South Wales deserve better from a national sporting code.
The National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.