Attitudes must change

For many footballers, earning the respect of their team-mates is something they work hard to achieve.

It is from that respect garnered by a commitment to the club, to their fellow players and to performing on the field that success can be achieved.

The tight-knit camaraderie and loyalty is evident when a club takes the ultimate step of playing off in a grand final and delivering a premiership to their supporters.

But often inherent in football clubs is an old-fashioned, inherently threatening portrayal of masculinity that can be a barrier to getting men to play their part in changing attitudes to domestic violence.

The simple fact is that too many women are dying at the hands of their violent partners.

Too many women and their children are living in daily fear of a cowardly brutality to which no one should ever have to be subjected.

Many modern-day elite footballers are aware of the role they can play and quite a few have been vocal in tackling these hard truths.

Former Sydney Swans premiership player Luke Ablett has been one of the more high-profile supporters of this message. In one speech he noted how “men's violence against women is caused by two overarching factors: gender inequality and traditional notions of masculinity.”

Such issues are now being tackled in a program run jointly by AFL North East Border, Wangaratta Council and Women’s Health Goulburn North East.

They have backed a “respect and equity policy” that aims to make footy clubs more inclusive of women, to give them more respect and, so importantly, “to change attitudes towards family violence”. In other words, to use the campaign’s own example, footy clubs should not be about the hero who “kicks seven goals and sinks 17 beers after the game”.

As Wangaratta Tigers Junior Football Club president  Ash Allan says, the old ways – which only manage to help perpetuate the great tragedy of domestic violence in our community – have to go.

“We get kids from diverse backgrounds and I’m sure some of them are seeing difficult times at home and our job is to welcome them in an environment that is supportive and where they feel valued and equal.”

Change has to happen and Border sporting clubs must play their part.