It should be one of the happy rituals of parenthood. You drag yourself out of bed early on a weekend, stand by the side of a sports field and with a bit of good natured grumbling about the cold, the heat or the hour, cheer your child on in sport.

But for one Melbourne mother recently, that happy routine came to a shocking end when her 12-year-old son copped a vile sledging. The insult, from a boy of about the same age, ended with the words, “when I f—ed your mother”.

While sports fans reeled recently at tennis player Nick Kyrgios’ misogynistic taunt, it seems the same kind of hate-filled sexism is being heard at junior sports competitions.

Anthea Conroy, whose son was the target of the sledging, says while she was appalled by the comment, her son and his peers were not shocked, telling her such taunts were widely used.

Ms Conroy complained to the opposition club, asking for an apology and counselling for the other player, but so far has seen little response.

She says the insult doesn’t upset her personally but she is very worried for the boys involved, all of them.

“How can boys grow up to respect women when there’s no consequence when these incidents happen? All I wanted was for that young boy to be clearly told that it’s not OK to talk about women like that.”

The South Metro Junior Football League said while that particular matter had not been investigated, being part of a several complaints about the match, it should act as a catalyst to all clubs to reaffirm what was acceptable match-day behaviour.

The league’s general manager, Jake McCauley, said: “If you’re verbally sledging another player then that’s not within the spirit or the laws of the game.” He added that type of sledging was “extremely, extremely, rare”.

It’s happening at the elite level and it’s happening on the local footy oval, but what effect does aggressive, sexist sledging have on children and young people, and is enough being done to tackle it?

Former AFL player Luke Ablett can clearly remember hearing crass insults about other players’ mothers or sisters during his years in junior football, and is disappointed, although not surprised, to hear it’s still happening.

Ablett, 32, who is an ambassador for The Line, which aims to encourage respectful relationships and address violence against women, says derogatory comments on the local sporting field can have a huge impact on kids.

“Comments about women or that kind of gendered language, saying you play like a girl or you’re a fag, it absolutely diminishes the people who fall into those groups. For young boys it’s teaching them that being a woman is bad and as a result they start to respect women less.”

– Clare Kermond

Read More: Trash Talk in Junior Footy Can Damage Kids

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