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Sport’s real Big Bash: Family violence rates set to spike as NRL Grand Final approaches

If you find the above headline as provocative and tasteless I offer no apology. An alarming and tragic inevitability awaits the fast approaching NRL Grand Final weekend; there will be a spike in alcohol-related family violence across the country.

This isn’t a phenomenon limited to the NRL Grand Final or our country alone, but something witnessed, researched and documented in major sporting events around the world.

Last weekend’s AFL Grand Final was expected to result in a 20 per cent spike in family violence in Victoria, second only to the surge witnessed on New Year’s Eve.

According to reports, some women’s and family violence shelters had been preparing for the event for months. And with good reason.

Research released last year by La Trobe University’s Centre for Alcohol Policy Research found that family assaults increased by more than 40 per cent in New South Wales during the nights when NRL State of Origin games were played compared to non-Origin game nights. Recent studies in the UK found similar results linked to the 2010 World Cup.

So with the knowledge that the rate of family violence will inevitably increase during game day, it is reasonable, in fact it is crucial to ask, what are the AFL and NRL doing, indeed what can those football codes do to minimise the harm?

I’m sure the Todd Greenbergs, Gillon McLachlans of the world would be quick to point out their particular code’s domestic violence policies, awareness activates, and partnerships with groups such as White Ribbon Australia.

Yet it’s impossible not to question the sincerity of these as merely acts of public relations or feigned corporate social responsibility by our beloved teams and codes, when time and again they fail to acknowledge that they are fuelling the problem.

More often than not, our favourite teams’ fields are painted monuments for alcohol products. Alcohol ads are served up during play, between points and tries scored, and in game breaks. And kids’ sporting heroes are walking, talking billboards for this insidious product that exacerbates aggressive behaviour.

The link between alcohol and violence is well-documented and universally understood. The World Health Organization’s information on alcohol and intimate partner violence advises of “strong links” between alcohol use and family violence stating, “Evidence suggests that alcohol use increases the occurrence and severity of domestic violence”.

White Ribbon Australia, recognises the link between alcohol and family violence, acknowledging that, “Alcohol increases the likelihood and severity of violence and patterns of alcohol consumption.”

So again, I ask, what can these football codes do to minimise all this senseless violence?

They could start by being genuine about their intention to eradicate family violence by doing something meaningful.

Men make up the majority of AFL and NRL fans. They are also, overwhelmingly, the perpetrators of family violence incidents. Why then, do these codes continue to push a product to this demographic that only intensifies violence?

The hideous, resounding truth is this. This week in Australia, five women have been murdered in seven days. Across this year alone, 44 Australian women have been murdered at the hands of men committing acts of family violence. And it’s only October. Every day, first responders are called to intervene in hundreds of cases of family violence. Countless others go unreported.

The drivers of family violence are indeed complex and multi-layered. And of course, sporting clubs and teams aren’t the direct cause of such senseless and brutal violence. Ultimately, those responsible for men harming women and children are the men harming women and children. But as a society, we hold some accountability.

And so, surely. Surely, if sporting clubs took this issue seriously, they would do more. Because they could and should do so much more to limit their role in promoting alcohol which is a major contributor to intimate partner violence.

It’s time that clubs and sporting codes looked at – I mean, really looked at – what they are doing to have a genuine impact on this issues. Beyond their alliances with DV groups. Beyond family violence awareness rounds. Beyond their PR and bells and whistles.

All of that is meaningless without acknowledging, and then destroying, the link between alcohol, sport and family violence. Relinquishing their alcohol sponsorships would be a good start.

Because until and unless our national sporting codes take ownership of the issue and break that association, Australian sporting clubs will continue to be an enabler of alcohol-related family violence. And Australian women and children will continue to be needlessly scarred, hurt, and killed.

And that’s the uncomfortable, unpalatable, unavoidable truth.

Family and domestic violence support hotline

Jemima Turner

Jemima Turner is a Communications Officer at the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education with a background in lobbying and politics. She is passionate about advocating for the community in the fight to reduce alcohol harm.

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