Content warning: Domestic violence
Words: Anthea Sully (Chief Executive, White Ribbon UK).
The retired cricketer Geoffrey Boycott, who was given a knighthood on 10th September is not the first, and won’t be the last, convicted abuser to be lauded in public. The way in which society seems to be able to dismiss a man’s violence against a woman when set against some achievement, often sporting, is deeply concerning. In the case of Boycott, he was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend in 1998, given a 3 month suspended sentence and fined £5,300. He lost an appeal.
We believe Theresa May made a serious error of judgement in putting Boycott forward for an honour. May is reportedly a feminist, and one of the few things she had promoted as Prime Minister was the Domestic Abuse Bill, which has a focus on safeguarding women. In 2019, citing Geoffrey Boycott as one of her heroes, May completely discredited her stated commitment to supporting women who are experiencing, or survivors of, domestic abuse by this final action.
Boycott has always relished portraying himself as a blunt, outspoken northerner. This has never been appropriate behaviour, but his performance on Radio 4’s Today programme was nothing short of outrageous. His, “I don’t give a toss about her, love,” response to Martha Kearney’s question about the concerns raised by the chief executive of Women’s Aid who had said his knighthood was “extremely disappointing”, was aggressive and showed terrible contempt for women, and those who have experienced domestic abuse in particular. Later in the day he responded to criticism with a wounded, ‘It should have been one of the nicest days of my life’. There was an opportunity here to at least go some way towards redeeming himself by showing he had remorse, standing against domestic abuse and reflecting on his behaviour; however, he decided instead to reflect on how this bad press has negatively affected his day. The reality is that many women don’t have the luxury of a ‘nice day’ due to living with the long term consequences of domestic abuse.
Anyone in the public eye must take responsibility as role models. This is particularly necessary for men, especially sportsmen. They must think about their own behaviour and the responsibility they carry knowing that they are able to influence other men, and boys. We must never teach boys that their sporting achievements are valued more than how they behave towards women.