My experience of sexism in rugby union
Club Rugby

My experience of sexism in rugby union

My experience of sexism in rugby union

Over the past two weeks I’ve been asked repeatedly to write about my experiences of sexism in rugby union. Truth be told, it’s taken me this long to calm down enough to put my thoughts in order.

I’ve been physically sickened by the nature and extent of reporting on Di Patston by media organisations who clearly think that there can be extenuating circumstances that excuse sexual harassment and bullying in any form. There aren’t.


I’ve been reluctant to weigh in because I’ve worried that people would take my accounts of my overwhelmingly positive experiences from my fifteen years of involvement with rugby – mostly with the University of Queensland Rugby Club (where I started with the club as a medical trainer in Colts and progressed through to Premier Grade, before retiring and joining the committee of the club) – and somehow extrapolate them to the horrific experiences of Di Patston to find that she wasn’t up to the task. There is no comparison.

I can recall every single incident at Uni Rugby where I have felt threatened or made to feel like less of a person because of my gender.  I can remember all of them because there have been four. In fifteen years. Four incidents of poor treatment within thousands of deeply satisfying, funny, touching, and inspiring friendships. There is no comparison.

In every case, I felt that there was someone at the club who I could talk to about what had happened.

In every case I was heard and I was believed.

In every case my experience and my feelings mattered.

In every case, there were good men who stepped in.

In every case the club acted immediately.

To this day, no one from the club or from the QRU has ever asked me about my sexual history or questioned my right to stand alongside players.

There is no comparison.

I’ve seen immaturity, inexperience and a desire to look after mates as reasons players have not supported Di Patston when her name was being savaged in the media. In each of the four incidents I’ve experienced, those good men who stepped in were under the age of 22.

Google tells me that it was Edmund Burke who said that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. I’m alarmed at a sports and media culture that has dissected Patston and McKenzie’s lives before asking the question that really speaks to the culture of the Wallabies: who stepped up and did something when Kurtley sent those texts? And who sat by and did nothing?


  • SuckerForRed

    Well said Cat. I to have battled over the last couple of weeks to put something together and haven’t been able to. Thanks.

  • Great piece, Cat. Needs to be said, although, it really doesn’t.

    • first time long time

      Please read what David Lord on The Roar website wrote this morning…..
      I will paraphrase;

      “If Cheika were coach he would have picked the warratahs backline + Kuridrani.
      Beale wouldn’t be facing a hearing and the wallabies wouldn’t be torn apart.
      What a disgraceful mess its turned out to be that could have been so easily avoided.”

      It is hard to read it any other way except that he feels this disgraceful mess is not KB’s fault and rather the coaches for not picking him in the position he wanted and not babying him as he has been used to at the tahs.
      If I am misconstruing his article please tell me because otherwise this guy may just be as bigger idiot as KB.

      • Observer

        I’d forgotten about The Roar…. and I just went and found the article…and read it…… and now wish I hadn’t.
        Same regurgitated puke that’s been going on for weeks and it’s nothing but speculations and assumptions.
        For a senior and experienced writer, it’s pretty poor.

      • Tony Dun

        Lord is the reason I dont usually bother with the Roar; how can they employ that moron? (I only go to the Roar to see what Scott Allen says)

  • ChargerWA

    Love your balanced point of view. Very admirable.

  • Cramps

    Well said.

  • Cam Thomson

    For mine the most disappointing part of all of this is that in any other workplace Beale would been sacked. Saga over. Pulver admitted that, had it occurred in the back offices of the ARU then the person would have been fired.

    I don’t get why he sent the message. I don’t get why everyone other than Di Patson didn’t say anything when it was sent. I REALLY don’t get why two members of the Wallabie’s leadership group came to KB’s defence. I don’t get why we have a player with a history of off field problems still potentially in the mix. I don’t get why Aussie rugby does this to itself.

    • Catriona_A

      It’s an interesting case – where does standard workplace law stop and unionism (RUPA) start? I think the ARU had means and the legal argument to sack him immediately (they can then argue any payout terms with RUPA and his management).

      As for his motives, I think stupidity is a good one, but my main disappointment is that in June there were no leaks of player unrest to the media about KB’s actions.
      It’s the permissive culture that I have the greatest problem with. That culture, and therefore the Wallabies brand, does not represent who I am or what I stand for.

      • Mukhtar

        The Qantas Wallabies have mired the country’s reputation. Does Beale have any values at all? Tragic that Link wanted out, but I support his decision.
        The poor team culture and the media’s relentless spin took its toll on Di and Ewen. The fact that the coach has to make a press statement, that he does not have an intimate relationship with the team’s business manager says a lot about the depths that the tabloid press have plumbed.
        Coupled with on-field failures, some of the Wallabies & their misdemeanors further tarnish the game’s flagging support.
        These are dark days, indeed!
        Good luck to Kurtley, wherever he chooses to sell his (footy) skills.
        Forget the 2015 WC, the ARU must build a squad that can challenge for the WC in 2019.

  • Digs

    Great article. I am astonished by the rules rugby media and community at the moment. Phil Waugh suggested today that Beale will be back if Checka is appointed. I’m afraid that will be the last Wallabiea game I will watch if it happens.

  • PiratesRugby

    Thanks Cat. I’m grateful for your personal perspective. it must tough for you to watch this after your long involvement with UQ.

  • Thank you Cat. That needed to be said.

  • The Red Baron

    Great work Cat.

  • Patrick

    Great piece and well said.

  • Heather

    Perfectly said Catriona for something that should never need to be discussed in the 21st century.
    One of the most important days of my life turned out to be when you asked me to help you with the University of Queensland Rugby Colts teams for 2002. I would never have known it at the time, but the subsequent 13 years have changed my life and the course it was taking.
    Yes, I also had some negative experiences – but they were always dealt with promptly. But these very few isolated instances have been crushed by the overwhelming good times and positive experiences I have had with the rugby players and Club management.

    For the general public looking on it must appear that women aren’t valued within the rugby community for anything more than cutting up oranges for half time or standing on the sidelines supporting their kids or partners.

    I – for one- want to stand up and yell from the rooftop of the Uni Rugby Club that the Committee, staff, coaches, and players do not see gender. They want the best person for the job- paid or volunteer. That’s it. No more, no less.

    This brings me to an idea that I have no clue on how to bring it to fruition. I would love to read on this forum about all the other rugby clubs around Australia- indeed internationally – that have the same policy / outlook / attitude as I’ve experienced. Who has women as committee members / presidents/ GMs etc?

    I would love to show the ARU hierarchy and Wallaby players how unacceptable their treatment of Di had been through their demonstrated lack of public support until they’ve claimed her scalp.

  • Jamie Miller

    Inevitably, the ARU will surely have to sack Beale for his gross behaviour. That sort of stuff belongs in League. They should have gotten out in front of this, acted decisively, and then dealt with the team management issues.

    • Merrow

      No. It doesn’t belong any where.

  • Parker

    Cat, thank you for injecting the most sensible statements into the overwhelming amount of commentary on this shameful affair. Your calm wisdom is all the more admirable considering how galling it must have been to witness what has gone on.

  • PresqueVu

    The best, most succinct piece written on the whole sordid affair. There’s a gaggle of so called sports journo’s at the SMH and The Roar as well a number of players and staff in the Wallabies, both senior & junior who need read this and have a good hard look at their own values. Well said.

  • Duncher

    The thing that bothers me most is that it matters not what action the ARU takes with KB. He will be fine, he’ll get another (probably higher paying) job with the NRL or French Rugby or in Japan or where ever. It doesn’t matter what sanctions are brought against him, they will not matter in the long run.

    Di Patston on the other hand will struggle to get another job. The whole injustice of this situation just shits me.

    And indeed Cat, where were the real men standing up for the right thing?!?!?!?!?!

  • Axemen

    Please don’t forward this article onto SMH and Georgina Robinson – within 24 hours they will have a smear campaign operating against this very thoughtful and sensible lady and the UQ Rugby Club. There are many great women at all rugby clubs who must be wondering is it worth putting themselves in such a position at present – very sad.

    • RugbyParent

      I have been a board member of a large rugby club and am female. It had its challenges and rewards that had nothing to do with being female but rather the uncertain nature of running a business as volunteers. There were plenty of circumstances where I am sure my presence was awkward for others as they were not used to a female involved but at the end of the day making sure the business was viable so that all who turned up to enjoy the sport at whatever level they were pursuing could do so was all that really mattered. I only came across one mysoginist and how different is that to life everywhere. People generally have agendas for their actions and rugby is no different to other sports. Kurtley shouldn’t have sent the texts but he did because he either didn’t put many braincells in to it (possible as many male frontal lobes not fully formed until 25) or he was deliberately trying to undermine someone because he couldn’t get something he wanted. There is no point to finger pointing. It is terribly sad/dissapointing that Ewen felt compelled to resign as it really means that there are people involved at the ARU level who don’t really understand what team means. That is the challenge of any board – rugby or otherwise – ensuring everyones agenda is the same. Ewen was a great Wallaby coach but somewhere the system/structure let him down before he could reap the rewards of his years of toil. For that I feel very sad as it is a tragic loss to the business that is Australian Rugby. A coach cannot coach unless he/she is in an environment where they feel fully supported by the structure around them. It is only human nature that we perform our best even against adversity when we think that someone who matters has our back!

  • Samantha

    Great piece Cat. I know a woman in her 50’s who worked with a football club for many years (AFL, not Rugby) and was one of the most respected officials there. She was a sports trainer too. They guys in the club, from juniors right up to 1st grade would even apologise if they swore in front of her. They treated her like she their mum and she treated them like sons. I know my son, even as an adult, would come home after training saying “Kath said I have to do this”.
    As a mum I loved that she was there to look after my boys if they were hurt, no matter what age they were.
    There are a lot of positive stories about women involved in all types of footy, but the good ones never make the news. Only the rubbish like what is going on now.

  • Well said Cat, it is a pity that rugby is going back to the bad old days where the women were only involved to cut oranges and wash guernsies. As much as UQ set a great standard in gender equality with womens rugby and off field staff, there are clubs in Brisbane that have lost their womens teams due to the treatment they received in the last decade, Easts, Souths, Norths and Brothers all had entire team defections due to perceptions of inequality, so maybe a complete shift in the way women are treated (not just in sport) needs to happen.

    • Catriona_A

      I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been reluctant to speak up because I didn’t want to be considered representative of an entire culture. You’re absolutely right that levels of support for women in rugby even within the Brisbane/Queensland club rugby scene vary greatly and I could never presume to speak of someone else’s experience.
      I was, and still am, uneasy being a spokesperson on the issue, but this whole time I’ve been thinking about how easy it is to imagine how it would be in Patston’s shoes, even just off the little we know. Those texts were sent around on her first or second day with the squad. Firstly, how the hell had the team known her long enough to develop the degree of unrest the SMH has been telling us her appearance generated; and secondly if I’d had a bad experience anywhere inside the first year (let alone my first day!) I would’ve walked away from rugby and never looked back.

  • Hack Ref

    Thank you, Cat. We all need to be centred from time to time.

    KB, DP and Link issue if that is the issue? Cause frankly hearsay has won over fact. But the crisis creates a number of healthy discussions to be had at the ARU.

    Culture is a key one. Sexism is wrong, wrong, wrong. But that does not means its not recurring, o’course it is. As young men mature in an environment that is tougher than most. Pastoral care over these young men needs to take place so they remain grounded and develop into spectacular role models. KB should have, could have been one of those. Hell look at how good anybody with the surname Ella has been. Fantastic people one and all.

    Its a loss to us all that he has found himself is such a failing position. Never excuse him but give him a course of redemption. THIS DOES NOT MEAN PROMOTE HIM TO A RUN ON 10! But the organisation must be able to keep him in the game and mend his ways. (Refer D Knox article SHM Sat 18/10)

    As with every work place problem no one person is solely to blame. So all must learn from this. Wholesale sackings and resignations are generally not the answer. The leavers usually consider that to be an easier solution than that of surviving the workplace investigation that follows.

    The press have a role to report fact and if fact becomes scandal then so be it. But if they print gossip as fact and are incorrect the ARU should revoke their Press status. The knife always cuts both ways! Press have a responsibility to be accurate in their writing which builds the following readership. As a consumer I want to read stuff thats worth my time and thoughts! ( thumbs up to Matt & Team).

    So where does the ARU go from here? Its likely to be Cheik. Basically because he can bring culture change to the Wallabies as he has done with the Tahs!. But for those who aren’t close the Tahs when Cheik turned up it was a tough time for all concerned (management & players) ((remember the car washing deal))but we all agree the results are worthy of the changes.

    So going with Cheik; Will this mean that any decision he makes is a NSW centric call at the expense of all other provinces? Hardly, but people need to give the head coach the benefit of the doubt for a good while before hanging them out to dry. Our behaviour over Robbie Deans was poor, our behaviour about Link was poor as well. So we as the public need to be more measured and this starts with the press.

    I would to love to see all this stuff go off the agenda while solutions are worked and we get back to the excellent 80 minute performance we had when perhaps we needed just one extra minute. Such a near miss just feeds my desire to see the Men in Gold succeed against the wolds best on the other side of the ditch.

    • ab25

      I think you’ve totally missed the mark on this one. ‘Young men mature in an environment that is tougher than most.’ Oh please. Most of these guys have never worked for a day in their lives. I believe that they get it too easy. Kurtley has had life handed to him on a silver platter, he’s had opportunities that others can only dream of. As for second chances and counselling, how many more does he need. If he had wanted to change his behaviour he would have done it well before now.

      I can’t believe the attitude of the other players who stood by and let this happen to Di. You would have to guess at least a couple were his ‘mates’ from the Tah’s. And as for Cheik, what great change did he make to Kurtley?

      In case you can’t work out, this whole situation makes my blood boil. I can’t understand why we are needing to have these conversations in the 21st Century. Perhaps what we should be focussing on is RESPECT – for yourself, for others and the Gold jersey. Only once we have that can we hope for real change.

      • Hack Ref

        Ab25, Seriously I don’t think we are too far apart. The fact that talented young players who earn telephone number salaries and get adorned by all. Does distort one’s perception on life. My young man as most young men I know explore the extents of acceptable behaviour and the cohort of older men usually belt them back into line, as per Cat’s article. I think this has been mostly absent in KB case. That does not excuse him but we need to do this for all young men, even our super star players in Rugby, League and AFL.

  • hugh

    Michael Jeh runs life skills workshops for a number of sporting organisations around the country, including the ARU. His work with the ARU targets the young and talented players in the National Gold Squad and Junior Gold Cup Squads delivering a programme called A Few Good Men.

    “A Few Good Men is a project that aims to get men and boys to take complete ownership of the way we treat women in our society. It is a shocking and inconvenient truth that 1 in 3 women worldwide have been physically or sexually assaulted. Just stop and think about that; 1 in 3 women. Our mothers, sisters, daughters, wives and friends. These are the women we’re talking about. They’re not strangers, they’re not alien beings. They’re our most precious partners in life.A Few Good Men challenges us to handle the truth. The sad truth is that most of these acts of violence against women are committed by men. For example, less than 1% of rapes are committed by females.”

    Given the investment that ARU have made in educating the future leaders of the game, particularly with respect to their treatment of women, I would be very surprised if the book wasn’t thrown at KB over this incredibly juvenile and naive act if the Code of Conduct Inquiry findings are against him.
    The previous life skills packages that Michael Jeh delivered to the NGS and JGS drew heavily on real life examples of inappropriate decision making by professional rugby players. You don’t need the brains of an Archbishop to know which four players gave him the most material for the case studies of inappropriate decision making and poor behaviour.

    For all the crap that is rightly dumped on ARU from time to time, there are some good folk involved in running our game, and setting the agenda for the future.

    It is a pity that some of the current players seem to have been asleep during the life skills presentations in the past.

    SOLUTION: Run all contracted players through the Michael Jeh workshop.

    • Hack Ref

      Thanks Hugh. Good to know, I just wonder what we do with problem players going forward? Eventually the unworkable have to get cut free. So are we there with KB?

    • SuckerForRed

      Hey Hugh, do you know when they started running the players through the preso?

      • hugh

        Last 4 years that I am aware of. Probably for much longer.

        Michael Jeh runs excellent workshops for the National Gold and Junior Gold squads. Parents and boys speak very highly of the sessions.

  • Stivo

    Great article… And I 100% agree… In any other workplace in the country the actions of Beale would be a no brainer for dismissal given his track record… This includes any other sporting club… But for some reason Beals crew and the NSW rugby power brokers went to work on Mckenzie and Patston simply to keep Beale at the waratahs next season and to look after a mate.

    What has happened represents everything that is wrong with rugby and especially NSW rugby. Michael hooper has shown himself to be the worst wallaby captain to ever hold that position with his inability to support the core values of our game, previous captains would be hanging their heads in shame for what he has done. Through his public support of Beale he has condoned his actions… Again in any other work place he would be disciplined for that.

    I think the fact that the ARU have brought Moore back into the fold whilst injured (an unprecedented move) shows the lack of faith the ARU has in hooper and his ability to lead and makes it clear that as soon as he is fit again Moore will be captain.

    The whole thing is a disgrace…

  • Anon

    This could be particularly naive of me, but I’m having a hard time digesting why exactly Di will have a tough time getting another job, anyone with half a morsel of a brain knows that what has happened was not in any way, shape or form her fault. She has not acted in an unprofessional manner, in my opinion quite the opposite. It is very clear the Beale was in the why will she struggle?

    • Catriona_A

      Google and the smears (especially by the Fairfax press) against her abilities, honesty and history of spider bites (I wish I was joking) means that any employer who looks her up will probably not be convinced of her suitability for any role.

  • Lee Grant

    Congratulations Cat for a wonderful article.

  • Robson

    This article needs to be engraved on the forehead of every person who failed the supreme test of manhood which was standing up for an isolated female staff member in a testosterend fueled all male environment.

  • Gnostic

    Great stuff Cat. We don’t see you around here often enough, and no lurking doesn’t count.

  • Meatray

    An excellent piece, thank you for writing it.

  • hugh

    Plenty have been calling for Beale’s head over his alleged harassment of the Wallabies Business Manager.

    I am told that the legal profession has high standards of behaviour.
    This lawyer looks like getting stood down for between two and eight months for his sexual harassment.

    The VCAT tribunal found the lawyer did not have Asperger’s but had “a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personality” where on the one hand he was seen as a highly competent, respected, intelligent and outgoing solicitor and friend. On the other hand, VCAT found his behaviour towards the woman portrayed “a persistent sexual predator capable of considerable cunning, humiliating behaviour and deceit”.

    The appeal judges said that to treat a woman he was training in that fashion was “unquestionably despicable unprofessional conduct”.

    But the judges, in granting the appeal, said there was no evidence to suggest the lawyer had preyed on any other woman, he had already paid $100,000 compensation and his professional standards were “impeccable”.

    Read more:

  • Uncle Percy

    Mate if Beale pulled that stunt at any half professional outfit then he would be fired without hesitation. Utterly indefensible and not a one off incident. If there was ever a group that needed a no d*ckheads policy then this is it. You’re condoning his appalling behaviour by writing it off as frustration but probably wringing your hands wondering why we don’t have the discipline/skills/ticker to get over the line against the best teams in the world. You do realise there’s a link (no pun intended) don’t you?!

  • Diana

    Dismissing texts that berate women by comparing her to others in sexual desirability therefore belittling her to nothing other than her sexual identity is sexual harassment. By KB AND by the media. Every individual in Australia or at least those with mothers, daughters, wives or sisters that they love should find this unacceptable. KB has chosen to make this a professional career and as such should have considered the ramifications of these acts on his career. As every other individual living & working in Australia does. Bravo on speaking out fairly to the rugby community against behaviour that cannot be tolerated unless we wish it become socially tolerable.

  • Robson

    What time machine have you just stepped out of. This is now the 21st century where it is widely acknowledged by intelligent beings that no amount of frustration makes it okay to use sexual harassment to resolve your own frustrations. The man in question here has already been before the court on a male v female assault charge. What he has done here was not violent but was nonetheless a gender violation; which in diluted terms is euphimistically called sexism.

  • Michael Hassall

    Mate you are a goose. Plain and simple.

  • Michael Hassall

    My apologies, I oversimplified. I don’t actually understand what point it is you are trying to make in your posts above. It seems as though you started trying to make a point but it got lost in the noise.

    I have to agree with Nick Farr-Jones, this should have been handled in an appropriate manner at the time of the incident. It’s a pity it wasn’t.

  • Robson

    As a professional rugby player representing his country, Kurtley Beale was in charge of his own behaviour and in this instance his behaviour had extended to sending lewd texts to a female. The perspective you are trying to put this into is one where his behaviour was justified by frustration. Your arguement falls at the first hurdle. No amount of frustration makes his behaviour exusable. You are defending the indefensible.

Club Rugby

These are my own opinions based on my own observations and preferences. They are not necessarily the opinions of everyone in the world, they may not be yours, and they may not even be the opinions of other GAGR writers. That's ok. You can find me on twitter (@catriona_a) or on Instagram (same username). A warning for any potential Instagram followers though: I am boring as batshit.

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