"No one is immune"
In May 2015, the Dyldam Parramatta Eels officially launched a Domestic Violence Action Plan, a first for a national professional sporting club in Australia.
As the plan became a reality, the Eels playing group and their opponents on the day - the New Zealand Warriors - took to the centre of the field at Parramatta’s Pirtek Stadium and linked arms across the 50 metre line.
The symbolic gesture is one borrowed from the No More Campaign in the Northern Territory, where the actions of amateur and professional sporting teams who link arms before a game is credited with encouraging a decrease in family violence in the local community.
Speaking with Melbourne’s Harf Time Program, Acting Eels CEO John Boulous said the idea of a DVAP was one that immediately resonated with the Blue and Gold when it was raised by Charlie King, the founder of No More.
“It’s a powerful message to send,” John Boulous said.
“As a club we exist for two reasons: one is to win football games, but two is to change lives.”
“Charlie addressed the playing group and it resonated with the organisation, both our staff and players. We had a briefing session and we felt it was something that we just needed to do.”
“[Family violence] is happening more than we’d all like, and it’s happening everywhere: no one’s immune. We’re not going to resolve the situation [on our own], but if our players can be advocates for this it’s something we’ll take a lot of pride from.”
For the Parramatta Eels, the action plan focusses attention on education and awareness around the issue of family violence both internally, and externally in the community, including the club lending its support to the annual White Ribbon Day on November 25.
“We’ve got a very strong national brand and we’ve got a big presence in the Northern Territory,” Boulous said.
“We’ve also got big fan bases up in Queensland as well, so it’s something that as a club we feel we can make some national traction on. Then we’ve got to follow that up and consistently push that message when our players are in the community to really make it resonate with people, rather than just have the plan on paper.”
Along with briefings from advocate Charlie King on the issues of family violence, the Blue and Gold have also invested in education and welfare programs and presentations for players, staff and families that range from the Resilience Project - focussing on mental health - to Polynesian cultural support programs, Indigenous education presentations, and nutrition.
“Education and welfare is a huge commitment at our club,” Boulous said.
“Not only our players, but our staff and partners and families. Families can be the unsung heroes of this (rugby league): they put up with the highs and lows, and also our operational staff within the organisation can go for long periods when you’re without your partners and sometimes families can suffer as a result.”
“We want to really create and environment where we support the players’ partners and families just as much as we support our players.”
“We want to have an environment where they become better players, but more importantly an environment where they become better people.”