Sport, violence and alcohol

In the past week we have seen two and then three of the above factors combined in headlines in our press and on TV.

By far the worst combination of these factors occured in Kings Cross a week ago when 18-year-old Thomas Kelly was walking along, holding hands with his girlfriend and was king-hit by a stranger. The blow caused Thomas’ head to hit the pavement and it has now been confirmed that he died from the resulting injury. Police described this as ‘a mindless attack by a mindless individual’. Police have yet to arrest Thomas’ attacker, but state that they are ‘closing in’. There have been 213 assaults recorded in Kings Cross between March 2011 and March 2012. The City of Sydney council will install six extra security cameras in Kings Cross next month in addition to 81 cameras already covering the broader area.

Sydney’s former Lord Mayor Frank Sartor is quoted as saying the ‘culture of violence and drinking in Kings Cross is absolutely unacceptable and it has to change.’

At the weekend sport and violence was highlighted when AFL player and Carlton Captain, Chris Judd forced back the injured arm of an opposition player already pinned to the ground under one of Judd’s teammates. The AFL Match Review Board (MRB) couldn’t find a pre-existing term for this ‘unsportsmanlike’ conduct, choosing to send the incident straight to the tribunal. Judd is expected to be out for weeks as this incident follows on from previous ‘indescribable’ acts including pressure point tactics and eye gouging. Judd has won the AFL’s highest player honour the Brownlow Medal, awarded for best and fairest, twice.

And alcohol, sport and violence combined horribly on Sunday when a former rugby league player, Craig Field, was arrested after allegedly ‘king-hitting’ a man in a pub in Kingscliff on NSW’s far north coast. The man later died from head injuries. Field and his friend allegedly argued with the man while drinking at the hotel during the afternoon, but the incident occurred in the carpark at 9.15 pm that night.

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Comments – Violence is our fault

Australians are a competitive lot. As someone once noted, we would bet on two flies crawling up a pole. This fierce competitiveness translates to the football field, regardless of code. Whether we are rugby league, rugby union or Australian Rules supporters, we love nothing more than a tight game with plenty of action. And plenty of action in these sports often translates into plenty of biffo. And biffo has become particularly ugly, with high profile players (I refuse to call them ‘stars’) basically assaulting each other in order to gain advantage.

We play it tough, we play it hard. And when this testosterone moves from the playing field to the bars and clubs and pubs, what it unacceptable on the field becomes murderous after hours.

I am not trying to link the horrible, random killing of Thomas Kelly with AFL or rugby. But I do see an awful cultural connection between what is revered as ‘manly’ in our major footy codes and the excessive violence that is becoming part and parcel of many young people’s Saturday night out. If we fail to severely reprimand high profile players for rough conduct and thuggish behaviour, we are giving a green light to further off field violence.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) research shows that as a nation Australians drink far more than the average in other OECD countries. That is hardly something of which to be proud. In Europe alcohol consumption is usually connected with meals. In Australia drinking is almost a standalone pastime. It is worth noting the circumstances surrounding the incident involving Craig Field. The argument is alleged to have started in the afternoon and the assault occurred in the car park around 9.15pm. That is one long drinking session. And it begs the question about bystanders and publicans who continue to serve patrons when commonsense might dictate otherwise.

In fact it makes me wonder when any of us are going to take a long hard look at our history of alcohol-fuelled violence and step up. Who needs to do more? I don’t think this is about more cameras or more police. I think it starts in the home and how we handle alcohol personally and how we teach our children to drink – or not, if that is the better way. And seniors and grandparents can have a great influence on younger people, so the fact your children have grown up and left home is no excuse.

Until we own this problem as a community and all get to work on finding solutions, we will continue to see anguished parents front the evening news, tears in their eyes, as they recount that last farewell.

What do you think? Is increasing violence in places like Kings Cross the problem of the local council and the police? Or is it a part of our culture that needs to be tackled at a community level?

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