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Bad apples continue to spoil it for female fans

This contribution has been submitted to Webdiary by a student in the Online Journalism unit for the Masters in Media Practice and Masters in Publishing courses at The University of Sydney as part of the unit's assessment. The topics covered in the pieces awaiting publication are interesting – and diverse. We hope that Webdiarists will enjoy reading them, as well as giving these aspiring journalists plenty of constructive commentary.

Bad apples continue to spoil it for female fans
by Amanda Hawke

As anticipation builds to a fever pitch heading into another week of finals football – albeit sans a few notable absences – I can’t help but ask “what’s wrong with this picture?” regarding the rugby league’s treatment of alleged incidents involving players and their interactions with women.

Our rugby league, the country’s – or more aptly, the east coast’s guiding light through many a cold winter weekend, has been blowing a lot of hot air for a number of years about how keen it is to attract female supporters.

Go to any Friday or Saturday night feature match and it’s the only place in Sydney where you won’t have to line up to go to the bathroom.

It’s not difficult to see why, given the incidents that have played out in the media in the past two months.

One of the finals series absentees mentioned previously, Cronulla five-eighth Greg Bird treated the tabloids to a field day on August 25 when he was charged with inflicting grievous bodily harm to American girlfriend Katie Milligan.

The State of Origin man of the match, whose antics have inspired the creation of Facebook groups such as Greg Bird is a Wanker!!! and Lock up Greg Bird, was stood down indefinitely from the club and although he has been struck out of a possible premiership decider, his return is slated for next season.

A potent cocktail of drugs, alcohol and testosterone has been pinpointed as a fuelling factor in yet another alleged toilet incident – not Sonny Bill Williams this time, but Brisbane trio Karmichael Hunt, Darius Boyd and Sam Thaiday, who have been accused of gang raping a woman in the male toilet of a Brisbane nightclub on September 13.

While investigations continue into both aforementioned incidents, the Canterbury Bulldogs may have timely advice for the Sharks and Broncos, having weathered their own sex scandal storm back in 2004.

Six players from the team were alleged to have been involved in a gang rape at Coffs Harbour, but the charges were later dropped and the club penalised $150,000 for bringing the game into disrepute.

The incident sparked the creation of grassroots movement Football Fans Against Sexual Assault [http://www.smh.com.au/news/Sport/Fans-filthy-at-dirt-besmirching-their-game/2005/02/25/1109180117024.html] and drew attention to a culture of using group sex as a “team bonding” practice [http://jss.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/21/4/392].

“We’ve made every effort to move on from 2004,” The Bulldog’s Media Manager Frank Barrett said.

“It’s in the past and as far as the Bulldogs go we need to stress that everyone was cleared.

“The issue here has been cleaning up the image of the club.

“The Bulldogs have always had an established base of female supporters, but like the whole league one of our foremost objectives is to further encourage women’s participation.

“We’ve had the players get involved in breast cancer awareness activities [http://www.beyondblue.org.au/index.aspx?link_id=59.683] and held functions to get women involved.”

While the code is experiencing a decline in their female audience, unprecedented numbers of women are getting involved – and right into the on-field action.

Yvette Downey of the NSW Women’s Rugby League reports female participation in the sport is at an all-time high: “We’ve just had our State of Origin series and the Jillaroos are set to participate in the Women’s Rugby League World Cup which kicks off in early November,” she said.

“The World Cup will be great for the sport, there’s eight teams headed for Queensland to participate and it will be huge.

“We’ve had more and more school-age girls get involved and with the Cup happening, we’ll hopefully get more on board.”

There’s no doubt that being the subject of advances from hoards of attractive women is enough to make a young player believe his own hype, and it might be an ambitious ask to transform one of the country’s last bastions of unbridled masculinity.

But if the code is serious about bringing a female audience to the game, it will need to ask itself whether it’s a few bad apples in the bunch, or if it’s the sport’s culture that needs to be turfed.


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One word

Nice piece, Amanda. Nevertheless, I have one word of advice for you: Lysistrata.

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