Robert Lui, Nick Stevens, Isaac Gordon and Kirisome Auva’a. Four professional athletes from various codes around Australia. Some of these men were superstars, others rookies, some retired. All were convicted of domestic violence related offences.
Many others, some of whom are among the brightest stars in their respective sports, are spoken about only in whispers. Quashed or unrecorded convictions, dropped charges and reluctant witnesses leave their stories, and those of their victims, condemned to sport section gossip columns.
But beyond the headlines and back page scandals, there are men and women working to reverse the negative impact of these high-profile cases, and to instead use sport as a force to spread the message of domestic violence prevention and awareness.
Professor Sue Dyson of La Trobe University, who has worked with the AFL in developing their domestic violence prevention program, said her research does not prove any link between athletes and a elevated risk of domestic violence.
However, it is the increased media profile which these men carry, along with their influence on young men which means the sporting fraternity carries a greater responsibility to weed out domestic abusers.
“Athletes tend to be very high profile men, and they get a lot of media attention. But there is absolutely no evidence that they have a higher incidence of violence against women than other men,” Ms Dyson said.
“I wouldn’t want to put a spotlight on athletes and say ‘oh they’re role models’ but at the same time, when they are allowed to get away with too much, there are some young men in particular who see that and think ‘well if they can do that why can’t I?’.”
Sporting organisations were one of the key groups called out by the Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence in this February’s report into domestic and family violence in Queensland.
“The Taskforce challenges professional athletes and sporting teams of all types to model respectful relationships, and to highlight to fans, athletes and team-mates that domestic and family violence will not be tolerated,” the report reads.
2015 was by no means a scandal-free year for professional sport in Australia, but it is clear that Australian sporting bodies are beginning to take a tougher stance on domestic violence.
When standout rugby league rookie for South Sydney, Kirisome Auva’a, was convicted of domestic violence related offences in mid-2014, the NRL were quick to act.
Auva’a was stood down from his professional contract, handed a nine-month suspension and ordered to undergo counselling.
NRL CEO Dave Smith said in a statement the suspension was the first and final warning for Auva’a, claiming that any further offences would see a permanent ban from the game.
“Let me make it clear… we abhor violence against women and it will not be tolerated in our game,” Mr Smith said.
“Everyone needs to understand that if you are violent against women there is no place for you in Rugby League.”
As a result the NRL have also taken an expanded view towards player education. Each year a number of seminars are delivered to NRL and youth players as part of the NRL’s “Respectful Relationships” program.
Major sporting bodies, including the NRL, AFL, ARU and Netball Australia, have partnered with domestic violence charities such as Our Watch and White Ribbon Australia to engage players and the general public with messages of domestic violence prevention.
Sue Dyson said the intense media scrutiny of the professional sporting sphere means professional bodies and players can use their profile to bring important social issues such as domestic violence to the forefront.
“It is something that can be sensationalised, but on the whole I think it has brought the issue into the popular imagination, much more than it used to when it was covered up,” Ms Dyson said.
Ms Dyson said professional sporting bodies in Australia are making substantial progress in the fight against domestic violence by changing the institutional culture of their sporting clubs and making an anti-domestic violence message one of the core values of Australian sport.
“I think they’re doing a really good job. The AFL have really used the evidence we have gathered in our research to inform their education program. The individual clubs take a very strong position,” Ms Dyson said.
“There’s a limited amount that any workplace can do … but I think what they are doing is terrific, and what is important is that they recognise it’s not just something that can be a one off, it’s something that has to be repeated year after year, and has to be part of the values of the organisation.”
If you or anyone you know is experiencing domestic violence in any capacity you should reach out for support.
In an emergency dial 000