Rugby, partner violence and professional sports bodies; Julian Savea charged with assault

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Discussion on partner violence, professional sports players and the responsibility of sporting bodies has again been generated following All Black and Hurricanes player Sio Julian Savea being charged with common assault against his partner. This was further highlighted by Savea having fronted It's not OK family violence prevention posters in 2012.

Women's Refuge expressed disappointment that the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) allowed Julian Savea to play the weekend immediately following the assault and the absence of statements about the unacceptability of family violence. Savea has since travelled to South Africa with the Hurricanes.

The New Zealand Rugby Union was criticised for minimising the violence by emphasising the "special stresses" and "professional pressures" sportspeople in the public eye face.

The inadequate response was also reflected in comments by Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith, who said: "He has had time to deal with this and I think he's in a pretty good space right now ... We're rugby players and we just get on with things and I know it is a very private matter. I talked to him earlier in the week and then left him to it. And I think that's the way the rest of the guys have been as well. From my perspective as long as he's training well and doing everything he should be, which he will, then I'll leave him alone. As players we haven't even talked about it at all."

The NZ Herald reported that 11 professional players in New Zealand have been charged with assault in the past seven years.

Former All Black Jeff Wilson called on the players' association to "play a huge part in trying to become part of a solution." Wilson highlighted that sportpeople are held up as role models, bringing additional responsibility around public expectation and accountability. Again focusing on the need for consequences, he suggested docking players’ pay, saying,

"In the old days the biggest deterrent was non-selection. That hurt you, because you never wanted to miss a game, for a variety of reasons. But maybe it's time to hit these players where it hurts them more - in their wallet. So if you're unavailable for selection because you've breached the terms of your contract, or your team's protocols, should you miss out on being remunerated?"

Internationally, violence prevention programmes for professional sportsbodies have been developed. The US Mentors in Violence Prevention (MPV) is one example. The Australian Football League has developed a Respect & responsibility policy: Creating a safe and inclusive environment for women at all levels of Australian Football. It commissioned Michael Flood to write a report including a literature review, assessment of best practice in education and recommendations for future violence prevention efforts. An education resource for players was developed and a community education programme piloted.

Savea has been orderd to have no contact with his partner or visit their home until the case is resolved. He is due back in court next month.

Media:

All Black's assault charge withdrawn, Radio NZ, 25.10.13

Assault charge against All Black Savea withdrawn, Stuff, 25.10.13

Wilson: Player justice needs a helping hand, Stuff, 28.04.13

Rugby: Buck stops at players' door, NZ Herald, 28.04.13

Savea will travel to South Africa with Canes, Stuff, 27.04.13

Rugby bad boys paying the penalty, Stuff, 27.04.13

Stop making excuses for Savea, NZ Herald, 25.04.13

Rugby: Hammett's life made easier by Savea decision, NZ Herald, 24.04.13

We know Julian's not like that, say Saveas, Stuff, 23.04.13

Women’s Refuge Statement re Julian Savea, Scoop, 22.04.13

All Black Julian Savea charged with assault, Stuff, 21.04.13