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57 seconds - that's all it took to undo much of the good work done by many sports codes

Discrimination Sex Discrimination

A lot can be said in 57 seconds. And a lot can be learnt from such a brief exchange.

Last week, a laughing conversation between two AFL club presidents and three other high-profile football personalities suggested that drowning a female Fairfax journalist would be an effective way to fundraise for motor neurone disease. Ha ha.

It is not funny when men in positions of power and influence in the AFL laughingly suggest they could raise money for motor neurone disease by drowning a female colleague.

We also heard the AFL last week announce the start of a national women's competition by awarding eight licences for women's team, with more to come in years to come. Four national sporting codes - AFL, netball, ARU and NRL committed to work with the anti-violence campaign, Our Watch, to combat violence against women.

The incidents tell us a lot about the power of sport.

The start of a national women's AFL competition, and the commitment made by national sporting codes to combating violence against women are welcome steps towards gender equality.

They show some of the ways in which sporting codes can help change our community for the better.

The statistics on violence against women and children are shocking. Up to one in three Australian women are affected by family violence in their lifetime, and one in four children. Family violence is the highest contributor to death and injury for women aged 15 to 44. One woman a week is dying at the hands of a current or former intimate partner.

The AFL recognises that this is unacceptable and that people from all walks of life want to help bring about change.

The epidemic of family violence has affected our community for a long time.

It is to the credit of advocates such as Rosie Batty, Kristy McKellar, Jimmy Bartel and Ken Lay that we now understand the prevalence of family violence and also the drivers.

The key driver of family violence is gender inequality; and we now understand that change will happen when everyone recognises and rejects violence as well as the

attitudes that support or endorse family and gender violence. Our sporting codes can have a significant impact on these attitudes.

Research tells us that while most people are not violent themselves many of us hold attitudes that support violence. Recent VicHealth research tells us that almost one in five Australians believe that men should be in charge of relationships; that one in five of us believe violence can be excused if a person gets so angry they lose control; and that one in five of us believe violence can be excused if the person subsequently regrets it.

We support or endorse violence when we minimise it, trivialise it, excuse it or justify it. We also support violence when we "blame the victim" by implying she or he has some responsibility for the violence.

Until recently, our community has not understood that jokes and everyday comments cause harm and can also create the environment to allow more mistreatment of women to occur, without consequence.

In that infamous 57-second conversation last week between a group of highprofile AFL commentators, we heard all of the attitudes we know are concerning.

We heard the commentators justify, trivialise and minimise their violent behaviour, excusing it as just a joke or banter.

We heard them victimblame the journalist, Caroline Wilson, as a "black widow" who deserved payback because "she just sucks you in and gets you and you start talking to her and then bang! She gets you".

And the views of anyone who tried to speak out at the time were disregarded.

Notice how hard it was for Damian Barrett to disagree with what was being said.

If anything good comes of this 57-second conversation it is that we better understand what we need to do to prevent violence against women.

Attitudes matter.

Published in The Herald Sun

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