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Sexism, violence rampant Aussie mens sports

Gang rape allegations against six professional rugby league players have put the spotlight on Australian sport which has been accused of tolerating a culture of violent and loutish bevaviour towards women.
By Lynda Dugdale (Agence France-Presse) | PTI, Sydney
PUBLISHED ON MAR 08, 2004 10:04 AM IST

Gang rape allegations against six professional rugby league players have put the spotlight on Australian sport which has been accused of tolerating a culture of violent and loutish behaviour towards women.

Stories of victorious men's sporting teams running riot are common in a country with one of the highest sports participation rates in the world and which worships its champions as demi-gods.

The latest allegations were made by an unnamed 20-year-old woman who said she was sexually assaulted last month by up to six players in Sydney's Canterbury Bulldogs, one of Australia's top teams, which finished third in National Rugby League (NRL) last year.

She alleges the men attacked her at the pool of the team hotel in the New South Wales resort town of Coffs Harbour where the Bulldogs had just won a pre-season match. Claims also surfaced of players brawling with locals outside a bar.

The latest rape allegation follows an almost identical claim by a 42-year-old woman against the same team at the same hotel a year ago.

An anonymous Bulldogs player reportedly told a Sunday newspaper group sex or "gang banging" was "nothing new" for his club or for the code.

A local film producer also told public radio this week of a rugby league player urinating on a makeup woman during filming of a commercial to promote the sport.

The allegations have plunged the code into an unprecedented and deepening scandal in a country that prides itself on its sporting triumphs.

"The fact that some sporting cultures are sexist and tolerant of violence is all the more troubling because those cultures are celebrated here," said Michael Flood, a researcher in sexuality and violence at the Australia Institute public policy research centre.

Flood told AFP that if a club wanted to create a cohesive sporting team "you make them socialise together so that they bond socially and sexual activity is often part of that bonding.

"Groups of men will go to a brothel together or watch pornography together. Or sometimes will have sex with the same woman together."

Jeff Bond, who worked for 22 years as a sports psychologist at the Australian Institute of Sport, said excessive adulation of athletes in Australia fed a negative culture.

"Unfortunately we idolise athletes and the athletes dont think theyre doing anything wrong," he said.

All too often, he said, the attitude of athletes is "Look: Im a hero. Ive only got to ... score the next try and all will be forgiven."

The same attitude extends to club administrators and national bodies, often run by former players, he believes.

"I think its a real bloke, masculine, almost chauvinistic culture within some of those contact mens team sports," Bond said.

The NRL said it was horrified by claims of regular group sex and chief executive David Gallop strongly denied the governing body condoned such behaviour.

Gallop has warned he may kick players or the club out of the competition and the Bulldogs management has vowed to penalise players who broke its code of conduct.

Sunshine Coast University lecturer Karen Brooks said evidence of male team athletes engaging in group sex was well documented in the United States.

Earlier this year two English premier league footballers were cleared of gang rape allegations by a 17-year-old girl following reports that Premiership footballers had been involved in group orgies known as 'roastings'.

Similar allegations in Australia are also not confined to rugby league, with other football codes, cricket and basketball coming under fire.

Australian leg spinner Shane Warne has been accused of sending "dirty" text messages to a British nurse and of harassing another woman.

Australian Football League (AFL) star Wayne Carey admitted eight years ago to sexually assaulting a woman outside a nightclub but was not convicted.

Ironically, Carey's stellar career was damaged not by the assault, but by his admitted breach of Australia's golden rule of mateship in 2002 when he slept with a team-mate's wife and was forced to switch clubs.

Police are requesting DNA samples while interviewing Bulldogs players, but police in the past have been forced to drop many claims due to lack of evidence.

The NRL and AFL told AFP they did not recall any players being convicted for sexual assault or similar crimes in recent years.

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