Sexism and Sport: Call It Out

This finals season, let’s tackle sexism on and off the field to prevent family violence.

Championing gender equality on and off the field 

Australians love sport. It brings communities together, gives us a sense of belonging, and it has the power to create change.
Over the past decade, we’ve seen incredible steps taken by many sporting organisations to address equality on and off the field. But, there’s still a way to go. 

Over the AFL and NRL Grand Final weekend each year, reports of family violence and violence against women increase. With Victorians likely spending the long weekend at home this year due to pandemic restrictions, there may be a compounding effect. 

Family violence can be driven by different forms of discrimination, including sexism, racism, ableism and homophobia. We know that sporting culture can reinforce those forms of discrimination at a societal, structural, community and individual level. 

However, sport also gives us an incredible opportunity to support communities and individuals to break free of harmful stereotypes, to foster inclusivity across society, and to challenge outdated ideas of masculinity. 

A recent report from Jesuit Social Services called 'Unpacking the Man Box' found that young men in Australia who adhere to outdated masculine stereotypes are more likely to use violence against women. 

Gender equality benefits all of us, and by addressing sexism and outdated attitudes and behaviours early, we can stop family violence before it starts. 
This finals season, let’s encourage sports organisations, players and fans to come together to tackle sexism on and off the field together. 

The facts

Victoria is facing its highest reported rates of family violence in history, with a 6.7% increase in reports to police over the past year. We know that Victoria Police and support services see an increase in family violence on the days surrounding large events like the NRL and AFL Grand Finals.  

Research shows that reported family violence incidents increase by at least 40% in NSW on State of Origin game nights. 

A 2019 study from Swinburne University found that Australians believe sports organisations do more for the greater good and for communities than government, religious institutions or unions. 

Jesuit Social Services’ Unpacking the Man Box research shows that men who are constrained by harmful stereotypes of masculinity are most likely to perpetrate violence, sexual harassment, and online bullying.

How to call it out

There are many ways to call out gender inequality and sexism, and the way you choose to address it will often come down to the situation, who is involved, and what you are comfortable with. We’ve put together four quick tips on addressing sexism in sport – when you are at home, with your mates, or others, to get you started.

  • Call out sexist jokes and comments – This might look like choosing not to laugh in the moment at a friend or colleague’s joke, calling them out straight away, or sending a message later on to let them know that you didn’t appreciate it.  
  • Call out the language you use, particularly in front of the kids – We’ve all been there. You shout an insult at the screen while watching a game or make an offhand comment about a player’s ability to kick over dinner. It’s important to think about the way you talk about gender in front of kids and try not to assign certain traits or stereotypes to men or women – no matter how bad the kick was. 
  • Call out stereotypes – Gender stereotypes harm all of us. Sport gives us an opportunity to challenge outdated ideas of masculinity, and to foster inclusivity – so think carefully about the way you think about and talk about both men and women in sport, and how you engage with sport at home. 
  • Call out discrimination or inaction – Wondering what your club or local team is doing to encourage and support equal participation and create safe spaces? Concerned about an issue that isn’t being addressed? Call up or email your club for a chat and ask about their approach. Use social media to start constructive conversations and think about how you can support or encourage people in your communities to ensure sport is equal and accessible for everyone. 

Support Pathways 

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 000. 

If you are experiencing or at risk of experiencing violence, help is available. 

Safe Steps is a family violence support centre providing assistance for women, members of the community who identify as female or transfeminine, as well as their children. The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 1800 015 188. More information can be found on the Safe Steps website.

If you are worried your behaviour might be harming your family members now or may in the future, call the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491. The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. More information can be found on the MensLine Australia website.

To access a wider range of family violence crisis response information and for further information for victims, perpetrators and bystanders of family violence, visit the contact us section on Respect Victoria's website.