Thursday, August 1, 2013

Night Games

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

Night Games investigates issues of sex, consent and male bonding in the world of football. Anna Krien gives a balanced account of football's dark side and finds that much more work needs to be done to improve attitudes to women.

Anna Krien’s style of journalism could perhaps be described as ‘immersive’. She picks a controversial subject and drops herself right in, mixing with opposing camps, and tries to come to a more nuanced conclusion. She used this approach in her first book, Into the Woods, which looked at the vexed question of Tasmania’s logging industry. In Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport, she examines the murkier side of Australia’s footy culture, one full of sexism, childish behaviour and outright bully tactics.

The book follows a rape trial, and the reader is pretty much invited to see this trial through the prism of the football culture that is described throughout. Football culture is pretty much a hermetically sealed universe that is a law unto itself. There are strange male bonding activities, a very bad attitude towards women, to the point where women are considered more as playthings than real people, and generally juvenile behaviour. As many interviewed in the book admit, this culture, with its sexism and boy-will-be-boys attitude, would be decidedly unwelcome in the mainstream.

What Night Games effectively shows is that there definitely is an attitude in football that is sexist. Furthermore, footballers might not even be aware that their behaviour is sexist. At the end of Night Games, when the young man who was accused of rape is asked by Krien if he ever indulged in trash talk about women, he said definitely not. But his girlfriend, who was sitting with him, laughed and said that he always talked trash about women when he was with his mates.

The subject matter of this book put me off. I thought, do I really want to trawl through Australia’s footy culture? But I couldn’t stop reading Krien’s account, and to her credit, I really think she does give a balanced, outsider’s look at the game. The take away is that football still has a lot of work to do to align itself with community standards, that its moral compass doesn’t always work and its attitude to women is very poor.

A last note: the book also does a terrific job of highlighting the achievements of women in the game. Especially the female sports journalists who put up with awful intimidation and bullying, but had the guts and determination to fight on.

Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport, by Anna Krien. Published by Black Inc. ISBN: 9781863956017 RRP: $29.99