CAITLIN BASSETT: AFL should follow NRL’s lead with stand-down rule for players like Tarryn Thomas

Caitlin Bassett
The Nightly
4 Min Read
The AFL  needs to odm ore than hold hands to combat gendered violence.
The AFL needs to odm ore than hold hands to combat gendered violence. Credit: Getty Images

Like many of you, I watched on over the weekend as the AFL made a stand condemning domestic violence.

But as a woman, I found the gesture kind of meaningless.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it takes time for change to happen, but I would have liked a little more than symbolic gestures.

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The AFL is a billion-dollar beast with a responsibility to do more than just link arms and say they condone this behaviour.

With domestic violence labelled a national crisis, it’s encouraging to see the league using its influence and popularity to shine a spotlight on the issue.

But the question I have been left pondering is at a higher level: What are the AFL doing to ensure gender-based violence won’t be tolerated in their sport?

As part of the commitment to making a stand, the league announced a partnership with Our Watch to deliver educational sessions to all 18 AFL and AFLW teams.

Face-to-face training workshops will aim to equip players with the tools to understand and develop respectful relationships while helping them understand the link between gender inequality and violence against women and the role of sport in promoting gender equality. But is a one-off session really enough to move the dial?

Players and officials spending a night in a domestic violence shelter to see the real impact of violence in the community would hold more weight than sitting down and listening to a powerpoint presentation after training.

Carlton has gone one step further and has a program called “Carlton Respects” which is a community initiative promoting gender equality for the prevention of violence against women.

The program uses the club’s platform to role out education in schools, workplaces and the community. They even wear orange socks once per year in both the men’s and women’s seasons to raise further awareness.

With the huge influence the league has nationally, every club should be running something similar to help actively create change.

And could they also look to adopt the NRL’s “no-fault stand down” policy?

In 2019 after repeated allegations of sexual assault or physical violence against women, the NRL introduced this policy that made it mandatory for players charged with these types of criminal offences to be stood down from the sport.

The “no-fault stand down” rule sent a clear message that the league would not tolerate violence against women or children.

The AFL implementing a similar rule would go a long way to showing they are taking a serious stance about domestic violence.

The biggest line in the sand would be for the league not to allow former players charged with domestic violence to have commentating or coaching roles later on down the track.

Unfortunately, there are numerous examples of former players who have been charged with violent offences who have been condemned only to return to the sport in a different capacity seemingly forgiven.

Tarryn Thomas is surely another easy win to make an example of but the AFL’s illicit drug policy proves that the league has no issues creating their own rules to protect their own when it suits.

Jimmy Bartel grew his beard to draw attention to the  domestic violence crisis.
Jimmy Bartel grew his beard to draw attention to the domestic violence crisis. Credit: Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images

I was impressed with the comments of Geelong champion Jimmy Bartel who spoke out about Thomas and the fact he was uncomfortable with him giving repeated chances despite his behaviour of abuse towards women.

“At some stage, the privilege has got to run out,” Bartel said.

“Playing AFL football, we talk about this with the drugs issue, it’s a privilege to play AFL.

“It was a privilege to get multiple opportunities. And now you’re getting the privilege of being spoken about getting another lifeline?

“Throw your arms around him, support him, but you don’t have to do that at AFL level.”

It was encouraging to see the league step in and block Wayne Carey’s elevation to legend status in the NSW Football Hall of Fame.

It’s a great start but I need to see a clear plan in place for an ongoing commitment to tackling this national crisis before I can believe it’s not just a one-off, driven by awkward timing.

If the AFL is serious about making a meaningful difference, showing how actions speak louder than words would be a good start.

If you or someone you know is experiencing family violence, phone 1800 RESPECT or the Crisis Care Helpline on 1800 199 008.

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