How Should We Respond To Abusers In Sport?   By Cheryl Roberts

5 May


This past weekend had me imagining world boxing champion, Floyd Mayweather using his boxing challenge match as a fight for recognition against abuse of women. I didn’t dream this; I really imagined this.

But this rich boxing challenge was all about men’s power and control! The last thing on the minds of all the men involved in pulling off this moneyed sports event was driving a cause for women. This was about the men and only the men, even though they were abusers and misogynists.

The recent boxing ‘fight of the century’, between two rich men whose beginnings started out in the hood, ignited attention to be placed on misogyny and abuse of women. Supporters chose not to cheer for Mayweather because of his abusive behaviour. This was progress for the challenges against abuse of women!

Gender activists, human rights and women’s organizations challenge patriarchy in society and subsequent male control of women’s bodies, mostly by violence and rape.

Just recently in South Africa we had the conviction of a rapist. This rapist was not a black man from a township. He was a white man, an ageing white man, a former tennis champion and a tennis coach. Convictions of sportsmen who are rapists and abusers are few because not all cases of abuse in sport are brought to law to be judged.

South Africa’s biggest high profile case of a sportsman shooting dead his girlfriend was that of Paralympian champion, Oscar Pretorius.

Internationally, there exists a litany of abusive sportsmen who have assaulted, raped and murdered. There also exists a litany of sportsmen who are roaming sports fields and terrains and society, not having been arrested, charged and convicted.

In some instances, football players have been arrested or charged and are facing trial for assault, yet continue to represent their clubs and countries internationally; there’s the example of George floyd mayweatherbob hewittLebese, playing for Kaizer Chiefs whilst it was known that the footballer viciously attacked a woman. Sometimes, the public is made aware of a sportsman’s violence against women when off the field, when media notes this and pictures of the abused partner are publicised. Here I’m thinking of the example of Teko Modise.

Abuse, assault and rape of women occur within sport by men in sport and sportsmen assaulting women outside of sport. I have personally heard of many assaults and rapes of women, who have participated in sport, by their coaches and sports officials.

For reasons of trust and confidentiality, I don’t publish this here. Most times, I have been informed of such when I have written about abuse in sport and by people who personally know of the abused in sport by men in sport.

Trying to fathom out how women respond to men’s participation in sport, especially the abusers who shine on the sports field, and off the field with their punches, bullets and hits on women.

So how do we react to male abusers in sport? How should feminists view sport, this male domain of male hegemony, prowess, attitude and abusive behaviour? Should we not watch men in sport and support sportswomen only? Do we watch sport and scream out for the abusive sportsman to be beaten? But then again, how do we know that many other sportsmen are also abusers who are yet to be known publicly.

When we know the sportsman is a convicted abuser or has been known publicly to be an abuser or rapist but comes back onto the sports field to perform his male sports prowess, how should we view this participation in sport and prowess?

Should we hate on the sportsman for ever, hope he has a pathetic game, delivers a bad performance and gets dropped loses contract? Or do we separate his violent and abusive behaviour off field from his sports prowess on the field?

There are some positives are occurring within sport, when sexual and physical abuse and assault of women inside and outside of sport, by men in sport, are becoming more known and public. This once taboo issue is now being smashed open. However, it’s not being taken apart and confronted by sport’s male officialdom. It’s being done by feminists, gender and anti-women abuse activists and women and men, whom have just about had enough of abuse and misogyny within sport being carefully untouched and left to be hidden away.

Until recently, abuse and misogyny within sport and by sportsmen is a closed affair. Sports officials, mostly men are intent on protecting the male terrain and power within sport. Most sports officials are not feminists or gender activists and most of them are not anti-patriarchy or have a conscious mind. They operate within the confines of male hegemonic power and deliver all they want according to their ‘man’s world. And this world is not about sexual and physical abuse in sport, according to men in sport.

Condemning abusers such as Oscar Pistorius, Bob Hewitt and Floyd Weather (and others like them) is positive and takes anti-abuse campaigns forward. Unless a strong anti-woman abuse voice develops within international sport and African sport and sport in South Africa, we will see guilty sportsmen being protected, displayed and viewed as heroes within the sports paradigm.

The difficulty is that we have a sense of much abusive behaviour over the decades within sport around the world, but this has not come to litigation for the abusers to be convicted. We have a tough struggle ahead to know when abuse is happening and for action to be undertaken.

In the meantime, we must engage relentlessly and challenge with our fierce voices, for sport to become open about abusers existing within sport and to respond in the interests of those who are being abused and have been victims.

As far as our support goes, we should publicly protest, whenever we engage in protests and activism, abusive, misogynistic and rapist sportsmen.

About our support: Surely we can’t scream for abusive sportsmen?

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