Words by Clare Kennedy
For a few years, Kate Seear had been part of a group of six women regularly messaging each other about sport, particularly the social and political issues in the AFL.
But as women and passionate footy supporters, the group was often dissatisfied with the way sport stories unfolded in the media. Even though women were often the subject of discussions and controversies, it didn’t feel as if they were involved in the conversation.
‘We felt dissatisfied by the discourse, so one night over dinner we thought: let’s make this into a podcast.’ That was the beginning of the Outer Sanctum, which has gained a strong following for its fresh perspective on all aspects of Aussie Rules football at both the grassroots and elite level.
‘We thought it was a problem that when really complex issues sprang up in sport, there was not often an attempt to engage with people who have lived experience of these things. It was important for us to bring marginalised people into that conversation,’ she says. And they have.
It's no surprise that a passion for sport has always been part of Seear’s personal life. She played representative netball throughout her childhood and teenage years. ‘Both my parents are super keen on sport. It was the kind of childhood where you stayed up all night to watch Pat Cash in the Finals.’
Kate's dog is called Cyril – he shares qualities with the Hawks great: reserved, keeps to himself but has a flying leap.
One of the catalysts for Seear’s interest in sport, law and the media was her reaction to the treatment of Ben Cousins towards the end of his AFL playing career. As a young lawyer she was troubled by the fact that although he was not charged with any criminal offences, he was charged by the AFL for bringing the game into disrepute. ‘It was troubling that you could punish someone who hadn’t been legally charged with anything.’ she says.
She went on to interview and write about Cousins, and her now research interests include drug use and the law, drug use and sport, gender and the body. She is now an Associate Professor of Law at Monash University.
Being part of the Outer Sanctum podcast is a hobby that brings together Seear’s legal expertise and her passion for footy. And strong support has emerged from a diverse community of listeners, young and old, men and and women, with a clear interest in conversations about the social, cultural and legal dimensions of footy.
Take the experience of parents in grassroots footy. I mention my own experience of junior footy over the last fifteen years with two sons - sometimes feeling alienated by a club culture where some coaches use aggressive language while coaching young boys.
’We frequently received emails from people whose sons play footy, and we talk about the importance of clubs making everyone feel included and welcome in the life of the club. It is particularly important now that girls are playing, especially around getting access to the resources, such as the need for change rooms,’ she says.
The development of a women’s football competition is of particular interest to Seear. It has raised many social and political and legal issues around fairness, gender and equality that are ripe for discussion.
‘For the first season it was very exciting, and we felt grateful and relieved the women were playing at that level. But in the second season it became obvious there were structural issues with the way the game was set up for women.’
She talks about the case of Western Bulldogs captain Katie Brennan, who couldn’t play in the grand final because she was suspended for one match. It raised a perception of injustice, because if she was a man, she would have been fined for the same offence.
Brennan went on to challenge the decision legally in the tribunal, but lost, and she then appealed to the Human Rights Commission, but later withdrew as the AFL capitulated and instituted rule changes.
‘It’s an example of the kind of challenges women have in the AFLW. Challenges include being subject to different rules that govern different pay, and rules that are in breach of sex discrimination legislation. These issues are really pressing, especially as grassroots football is growing.
‘’There is a real tension between the need and desire to give women opportunities to play at grassroots and elite levels. The structures being developed and put in place raise questions about fairness, equity, and compatibility with legislation that governs human rights.’
Associate Professor Kate Seear is a panellist at The Law and You Forum: Is Sport Playing by the Rules.
Wednesday 24 October – 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm
Deakin Edge, 1 Flinders Street Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: 03 9604 8100