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Domestic Violence in the Rugby League

The National Rugby League (NRL) is a competition that is no stranger to player scandals. From drug use, to match fixing, all these issues are still prevalent in the game today. However, one serious issue continues to cause trouble for the reputation and image of the game and its players is violence against women/domestic violence. Currently, St. George Dragons lock Jack de Belin is facing trial for the alleged sexual assault on a 19-year-old woman in December 2018. This case has been a basis of major controversy over the situation. This essay will outline the issue of violence against women in the NRL relating to the Jack de Belin case, how these situations affect players contracts, the NRL’s stance on preventing violence against women, and prevention strategies the NRL has implemented. This essay will also relate all contents to the Jack de Belin case and any other relevant cases/situations.

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Violence against women has always been an issue in Australia and continues to affect those affected by the situation. Within the past four years, the National Rugby League has had a major issue with players being charged with assault, with the victim being a random woman or the players partner. Eleven arrests have occurred since 2015, severely damaging players and the NRL’s reputation. Jack de Belin is currently on trial for allegedly sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman in de Belin’s cousin’s apartment in December, 2018. He was charged with aggravated sexual assault which he has pleaded not guilty to. De Belin’s contract requires him to attend training and any other commitments that apply to the Dragons Rugby League club. This requirement led to De Belin being released on bail, allowing him to attend training sessions and other club commitments as stated in his contract.

An issue prevalent in the NRL when it comes to players being involved in these types of situations is whether the NRL allows them to remain in contract with their club and competition. After the case began on De Belin’s sexual assault allegation, the NRL introduced the No-Fault Stand Down policy, which prevents the player from playing in the competition until their court case is concluded. However, the player is still able to fulfil his contract commitments such as attending training sessions, any other commitments that are a part of their playing/employment contract and receive any player welfare services offered to players as per their employment contract. The introduction of this policy was implemented, as stated in their announcement post, to help maintain the NRL’s reputation and ensure player welfare by allowing the player to remain in the club’s environment. Although not considered a punishment, the No-Fault Stand Down policy is one of the few consequences of players involving themselves in this kind of misconduct. AS players have violated their clubs code of conduct and sections of their contract, clubs give players fines for their misconduct. In 2016, Brisbane Broncos centre James Roberts was fined $20,000 by the club after he abused a woman on a drunken night out. Clubs have also terminated players contracts if they are found to be violating the terms of their contract, some players even being deregistered from the NRL. Ben Barba, a notable player in the NRL, was recently deregistered from the NRL after CCTV footage proved he assaulted his wife early 2019. Other incidents relating to Ben Barba also contributed to his deregistration such as testing positive to the use of cocaine while playing for the Cronulla Sharks in 2016.

Although deregistering players is the most extreme consequences the NRL itself can hand down to a player, the public believes clubs should be terminating contracts of those who commit serious offences such as assaulting women. Former NRL player Ryan Hoffman’s wife, Mel Hoffman, released an article calling out the NRL for their contradicting stance on eliminating violence against women. She argued that the players are educated enough to know right from wrong, and also mentioned that the light punishments given to players is an “insult to the victims who’s lives are scarred by an incident”. It is understandable why supporters and stakeholders would want player contracts to be terminated, considering they are in breach as their actions have damaged the club’s image and have gone against the interests of the club. However, these urges to terminate contracts are based on the players ‘alleged’ crime. Under common law, the presumption of innocence should be considered when a player is charged with assault. To terminate a player’s contract of employment before the case and ruling is final, is unjust and could ultimately affect the players career if they ended up being cleared of said charges.

As previously mentioned, the No Fault Stand Down policy was introduced for players that were charged with serious offences. Jack de Belin was the first player stood down by the policy. Amid his case for sexual assault, de Belin and his lawyers are now suing the NRL and Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) in the Federal Court and are attempting to over-turn the decision to allow de Belin to play as they believe the policy is harsh and unfair and has denied de Belin his right to work. Deborah Healy (2009) explains that a remedy available is the court issuing an “order for the defaulting party to fulfil their part of the agreement”. In de Belin’s case, the NRL would have to allow him to play as his contract states that he must play. He is also seeking financial compensation as a result. It is understandable that de Belin believes the policy is unfair as his whole career is dependent upon him playing and showcasing his talent to other clubs as he is off contract after the 2020 season. His mental health is also at risk if he is denied the opportunity the play as the chance of not being able to play the 2019 or 2020 season is possible if the court rules against de Belin. Similarly, in 2009 former Manly Sea Eagles player Brett Stewart was also stood down by the NRL while facing trial for aggravated sexual assault. He recently spoke out against the NRL’s decision to stand down de Belin as he is fearful of how the decision will affect de Belin (Fox Sport, 2019).

Furthermore, a complaint by publics and stakeholders on the NRL’s ‘inconsistent’ stance on player punishment. The NSW Council of Social Service (2016) released a statement criticising the NRL’s and Sydney Roosters responsibility of leadership when former Roosters player Shaun Kenny-Dowall was charged with assault of his former girlfriend. This issue came to light when the charges were released to the media, the Sydney Roosters did not immediately stand Kenny-Dowall down from his playing duties as the case opened. Domestic Violence CEO stated, “allegations of domestic violence made against a person in the public eye including actual bodily harm, the consequence of not taking action is a message of disrespect to survivors of violence everywhere”. Despite the allegations against Kenny-Dowall being false, it is a question of whether the club of the individual accused should be stood down, or have their contract terminated. A player being accused of such a crime is detrimental to the individual’s and their club’s image and reputation. Additionally, early 2019, the NRL launched a campaign called ‘Power to Change’, which includes a number of players speaking out on violence against women. However, during the launch of the campaign, five players including Jack de Belin were charged with either sexual assault or assault towards a female. Matt Lodge, who was criticised for harassing a female and her family in 2015, signed a two-year deal with the Broncos and has been celebrated for his contribution to the club, even being named in the NSW Blues emerging team for 2019. Despite the incident occurring four years ago, the public believe the NRL have been too lenient with his punishment even though the charges Lodge received could have landed him in jail for a minimum five years of jail service. Furthermore, the victims of his ‘rampage’ suffered psychological trauma, as well as damages to their property. In Cartright v Lodge (2015), the judge ruled that Lodge would not serve any jail time, as Lodge agreed to plead guilty, instead serving 200 community service hours, pay $1.2 million in damages and to undergo alcohol rehabilitation. It should also be considered that Lodge has undergone rehabilitation and deserves a chance to redeem himself as he returned to the NRL competition.

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The NRL is constantly implementing different programs to help educate players and promote being respectful to women. More specifically, education programs have been introduced by the NRL and individual clubs that have been made a compulsory requirement for them to attend. These education initiatives are a strategy used by the NRL to prevent any player from conducting themselves in a violent matter toward women. Players in the NRL have different types of education levels and were raised differently, thus affecting how they interact socially and with other people. The education programs ensure that all players are aware of how to treat women, especially in arguments or when intoxicated. It also ensures that, when in court, players cannot argue that they have not been educated to know right from wrong. The National Community Attitudes Survey (2013) found that 1 in 5 people believe there are certain circumstances where domestic violence situations can be excused. Furthermore, 3 in 5 believe violence against women is due to men not being able to control their anger. Zane Tetevano, Knights players at the time of his offence, pleaded guilty to assaulting his partner on a number of occasions and was jailed and banned from playing in the NRL for a number of years. He undertook a course, educating himself on domestic violence and educated himself on how to prevent such actions from reoccurring. By undertaking these courses, when Tetevano wanted to make a return to rugby league and register with the NRL once again, the NRL seen his rehabilitation efforts and allowed him to register and play in the NRL. As of 2019, he has yet to reoffend. The effort to rehabilitate is crucial for those charged with criminal offences. Although the crime they committed cannot be forgotten nor should be taken lightly, those who make the effort to rehabilitate is important for when they return to society, especially in Zane Tetevano’s case once he was released from prison. In the case Twigden v Centrelink (2010), Gray J stated that the defendant making efforts to rehabilitate “demonstrates that the defendant has accepted responsibility for her actions and her willingness to make amends. That acceptance of responsibility further indicates the progress made by the defendant in her rehabilitation.” Thus, Tetevano’s rehabilitation efforts have shown the NRL that he has taken responsibility for his actions, which the NRL made the decision to allow Tetevano to resign and sign a contract with a club.

Overall, violence against women has severely affected the NRL and those affected by the situation. Jack de Belin’s controversial case will ultimately affect how the NRL handle players that have been charged with serious offences and punish them in accordance to their playing contracts. Additionally, the NRL adding education initiatives and strategies to mitigate the situation of violence against women is a sufficient effort to promote awareness. However, it is evident that the problem lies with the actions of Jack de Belin and other players that have been charged with such crime.

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