Spot­light on sports stars be­hav­ing badly

Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Charles Hap­pell

By Anna Krien Black Inc, 288pp, $29.99

IN Night Games, award-win­ning Melbourne writer Anna Krien calls to ac­count sports jocks (and their cul­ture) for con­duct that might fall un­der the generic cat­e­gory of men be­hav­ing badly.

In this part court­room drama, part aca­demic study, part first-per­son nar­ra­tive, Krien ex­am­ines the be­hav­iour of top-level foot­ballers (in both the Aus­tralian Football League and National Rugby League), es­pe­cially af­ter the fi­nal siren has sounded.

With a head­less fe­male mannequin hold­ing a football on its cover, Night Games is sub­ti­tled: Sex, Power and Sport.

The cen­tral thread of the book con­cerns a rape trial in­volv­ing an Aus­tralian rules foot­baller in Melbourne, and wo­ven through­out that ac­count is a kind of aca­demic study of sports­men and their be­hav­iour as a group. Just why do th­ese young men so of­ten carry on like block­heads when out to­gether, drink­ing, af­ter dark?

Krien spends three weeks in Melbourne County Court fol­low­ing the trial of ‘‘ Justin Dyer’’ (Krien changes the names of those in­volved), a 22-year-old charged with six counts of rape. Dyer is a Queens­lan­der who has come to Vic­to­ria with a dream of mak­ing it in the big time, the AFL.

On the night af­ter the 2010 grand fi­nal re­play, when Colling­wood beat St Kilda, he at­tends a party at a town house in South Melbourne at which some Colling­wood play­ers are present.

A young woman, ‘‘ Sarah Wes­ley’’, has gone to the party with a Colling­wood re­serves player. They end up hav­ing sex in a bed­room; mid­way through, other peo­ple come into the room, in­clud­ing two Colling­wood se­nior play­ers, and Wes­ley ends up hav­ing sex with some in the group.

The ques­tion of her con­sent forms one of the book’s broader themes: the great ‘‘ grey area’’, as Krien calls it. Did Wes­ley have group sex be­cause she wanted to, felt com­pelled to, or was phys­i­cally forced to?

On the way out of the town house, some­time af­ter 5am, Dyer meets up with Wes­ley and of­fers her a taxi ride home. And that’s when the trou­ble starts that ends with Dyer in court. They have sex in an al­ley­way; he thinks it’s con­sen­sual, she thinks it isn’t and makes a com­plaint to po­lice the fol­low­ing day.

The Colling­wood play­ers in­volved in the first part of the evening drift out of the story; charges are not laid against them. Dyer is left on his own to face the law.

The case is a com­plex one and forces Krien to ex­am­ine her be­liefs and pre­con­cep­tions: is she pre­dis­posed to be­lieve Wes­ley’s ver­sion of events be­cause she’s a woman? Is she in­clined to dis­be­lieve Dyer be­cause he’s a sports­man, a jock who’s been out drink­ing un­til late, and there­fore not to be trusted?

If she dis­likes the football cul­ture so much, Krien won­ders, why does she en­joy watch­ing her part­ner’s AFL team, the Syd­ney Swans? Para­dox­i­cally, she leaps to Wes­ley’s de­fence when shar­ing a cof­fee one day with Dyer’s fam­ily, in­clud­ing his an­gry mother, yet finds her­self jus­ti­fy­ing Dyer’s ac­tions to her fe­male friends.

The blurred lines leave Krien long­ing for more clearly de­fined an­swers: ‘‘ You’ve got the rapist or the liar . . . and by try­ing to seek out a shade of grey I’m pro­tect­ing one of them. That is not go­ing to sit well with fem­i­nists or foot­ballers, I think, a knot of dread in the pit of my stom­ach. I pre­pare my­self for the ac­cu­sa­tions — that I’m a traitor to women for even sug­gest­ing that Sarah is not telling the

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