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'These horrific incidents seemed to keep them enmeshed with one another, in a taboo bond of manhood'

Anna Krien, author of the award-winning Night Games: Sex, Power, and a Journey to the Dark Heart of Sport, is our guest on this week’s Behind the Lines.

Anna Krien, pictured in 2014.
Anna Krien, pictured in 2014.
Image: Andrew Matthews

IT IS ALMOST eight years since the publication of Night Games, Anna Krien’s award-winning illumination of the dark culture of misogyny and sexual violence festering within Australian sport. 

The book centres on a trial in which a young woman – called Sarah in the book – alleges she was raped by a minor league Australian rules footballer after a house party, at which the young woman was also allegedly raped by members of the Collingwood AFL team. Having consented to sex with one Collingwood player, Sarah alleged a number of his team-mates then joined in without her consent. 

Having initially believed he spoke to police only to give a witness statement, the minor league player – given the name Justin Dyer in the book – became the only defendant in a trial that did not reference the prior rape allegation involving the pro footballers in the house. The defendant was acquitted of all charges. 

Beyond the trial, Night Games shone a wider light on the toxic masculinity that had enveloped Australian sport; a culture spotlighted in Ireland during the 2018 Belfast rape trial. 

In this culture, women are demeaned and objectified as just another instrument around which a male team can bond. This was a culture that didn’t just permit acts of sexual violence and misogyny: it was a culture sustained by them. 

“In this day and age, it’s not explicitly promoted”, says Anna on this week’s episode of Behind the Lines, ”but in previous decades, there were club nights explicitly called ‘Hump Night’ where players were told outright not to bring a female they cared about – so don’t bring your sister – but bring two females who you don’t care about. The idea was that everyone gets a hump that night. These were explicit instructions. 

There were National Rugby League stories of men actually lining up and crowding into rooms where one female thought she was just going back with one guy, only to discover that there were five more in the bathroom. All these horrific incidents seemed to keep them enmeshed with one another; a taboo bond of manhood, bonding over these poor females, while also keeping them bonded in such a way that they were even sort of ostracised from their own families, wives, girlfriends, sisters, and even their mothers.

“It just created this ring of steel, and you couldn’t untangle yourself from that bond because that would involve looking at yourself, and realising, ‘Oh my God, I really am a jackass.’

“That was one of the big explorations in Night Games: the failure to understand what it might be like to be prey, and failing to understand that prey might smile when feeling cornered, and when feeling unsafe and insecure.

“There was an inability [among players] to see outside themselves, and see outside the importance of themselves, because they were put up on pedestals.” 

Anna says she has some sympathy for the young men who enter into this culture, which keeps them in a state of, in her words, “arrested development.” At a time when boys in their late teens are seeing the world and its myriad experiences expand and open up to them, young professional athletes see theirs contract and reduced to narrow responsibilities and wide entitlement. 

As she writes in Night Games, the intersection of this world and its skewed understanding of sex is a “murky territory where boys can become someone’s fucked-up idea of a man.” 

The macho footballer’s ignorance and lack of empathy in situations like those described above creates a murky situation in which consent is not always mutually established, and the legal system has proved inadequate in dealing with it. A shocking statistic in the book: as of 2013, only 10% of rape complaints in Australia resulted in convictions. 

Eight years on from the publication of the book, has anything changed? 

“In the AFL, there here has been progress made”, says Anna. “To begin with, there’s now also a woman’s league, which has been quite wonderful to watch. And that gives a lot of women and girls agency, a sense of, ‘I’m not just here to watch boys play footy, I’m here to play. And I can be just as good, if not better.’


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“So that’s definitely really promoted a sense of equality. That said, it’s also been an economic coup for the game. It’s sort of ridiculous that they hadn’t thought of it before. I mean, why not double your money? So you can say there’s a slightly disingenuous aspect to it.

“I would say that the players in the AFL now watch within an inch of their lives when it comes to their behaviour, what they put on their social media, and how to deal with particular incidents.

“Whether that actually sinks down into the blood of actual empathy, as opposed to just PR management, I’m not sure.” 

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Though Night Games won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award and was widely acclaimed, it didn’t get a universally popular reception in Australia. 

“A lot of sports insiders stuck with the line of ‘What would she know? She’s an outsider, she doesn’t know us, so how could she understand us and that kind of thing?’”, says Anna.

There was pushback, definitely, from the football community. But there was also pushback from the other side as well. A female feminist academic wrote that I was promoting violence against women in the book because I was looking at consent: how it can sometimes be difficult to understand, that there needs to be an understanding of nuance, and that these things take time and education. It’s not as easy as just saying, ‘No means no’, because a lot of people don’t say no. They try to use other gestures or signals to alert that they’re feeling unsafe, and people aren’t reading them properly.” 

There was lots of support for the book, too. 

“I have had these incredible people reach out to me. I remember a football coach from a community club out in the regions wrote to me and said, ‘I’ve bought every single boy in our club Night Games. And by the time they get to U15s, if they haven’t read it, then they’re not in the U15s.

“And that’s perfect. I don’t really need a feminist academic to tell me that I’m promoting violence against women if I’m actually getting a book into these boys’ hands, and they’re reading about what it might feel like to be bullied by a team, and to feel trapped and cornered in a bedroom.

“They’re never going to read a feminist paper published by a university, but they’re going to read this book. I really appreciated hearing that.” 

Behind the Lines is a weekly podcast exclusive to 42 members. Each episode is a feature-length interview with a writer about sport, their career and their favourite writing. To listen to the full interview with Anna and a 61-episode back catalogue, subscribe at members.the42.ie.


About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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