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Rugby league’s culture must change

Michael Coutts pens an open letter to the Chairman of the Australian Rugby League Commission

ARL Chairman John Grant. Photo: The Australian
ARL Chairman John Grant.
Photo: The Australian

Dear John Grant,

I love watching rugby league. I always have. But I cannot stand the way the game treats women.

The only thing more shameful than the Bulldogs players who vilified female reporter Jayne Azzopardi at their Mad Monday celebrations with colourful epithets like, “Suck me off you dumb dog”, was the weak response by the game’s administrators. First, Bulldogs CEO Todd Greenberg issued a report claiming that the abuse was “not directed” at Ms Azzopardi and so there was no need to either name or personally punish the players responsible. While the rest of us sat back and said, “Oh yeah, that seems a logical response to a plausible explanation…” the ARLC missed the sarcasm and endorsed the Bulldogs report and actions as perfectly reasonable.

Mr Grant, you clearly lack the ideas and/or conviction to bring rugby league into the 21st century in terms of its attitudes towards women. Allow me to give you a few pointers.

Firstly, take more responsibility for controlling player behaviour. Clubs hate having to reprimand their players, particularly good ones, because that increases the chance that they will play badly or leave for elsewhere. That is why you need to hold your own investigations into incidents like the Bulldogs’ Mad Monday celebrations, or, if you insist on letting clubs handle it, you must be willing to punish players yourself.

On the subject of punishment, please lay down the law like you care. It is pitiful that Robert Lui was only banned for a year after being convicted of assaulting his (then pregnant) girlfriend by headbutting her and kicking her in the temple. Players who assault or sexually assault women should be given life bans. If you think that is too harsh, then at least ban them from representative football for life. It is insane that men who have been convicted of bashing and/or raping women are allowed to be the face of the NRL by playing in State of Origin or for the national team, the Kangaroos.

If nothing else, please break up the boys club and bring more women into the fold. Whilst I am not expecting you to be progressive enough to appoint a female to the vacant CEO role (though Basketball Australia recently handed former premier Kristina Keneally that position in their organisation), increasing the number of women on boards and in commentary boxes would be a great start.

I love watching rugby league. I always have. I believe that nothing could stop me from watching it. Please do not prove me wrong.

Kind regards,

NRL fans who believe in equality.