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Last week, an AFL player was touched inappropriately by a teammate. It's part of a bigger story.

Over the weekend, footage from the locker room of the Richmond Tigers AFL team began circulating online. It was a snippet of Tuesday's match-day broadcast, taken shortly after the team triumphed over the Brisbane Lions.

The clip shows the players gathered in a circle, celebrating their win and trumpeting their team song.

Then comes the incident that AFL commentators and former players have described "repulsive" and "horrific".


Video via Channel 10

Premiership-winning player, Nick Vlastuin, reaches across and inserts his finger into the rectum of teammate Mabior Chol. Chol jumps away in shock. Vlastuin can then be seen following him around the locker room and hitting him in the genitals multiple times.

It was reporter, Hugh Riminton, who first flagged the incident via Ten News. 

In his report, he also surfaced footage from the previous week in which another of Chol's teammates, Jayden Short, also struck him in the genitals during a post-match locker-room gathering.

As the headlines and commentary about the incident took hold, yet more vision surfaced. This time from inside the St Kilda locker room. 

Broadcast footage captured former Richmond player Dan Butler grope the backside of 22-year-old midfielder, Jade Gresham following a match on Thursday.

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The response.

The players responsible have since apologised.

"It was a stupid action and I am deeply embarrassed. I've apologised to Mabior," Vlastuin said in a statement.

Short added that, "It was unacceptable behaviour and a poor example."

Chol won't be pressing assault charges. He said, "I have no issue whatsoever with those players, or any of my teammates, but understand that is not the sort of example we should be setting."

The AFL will this week conduct a briefing with all 18 clubs about fostering safe workplaces and says it plans to develop an educational program at the end of the season with "specific focus on players and sexual harassment".

"What we saw in recent times with players from a number of clubs touching each other inappropriately is clearly not the standard of high performance in the workplace that we could — or should — accept," AFL CEO Gill McLachlan said.

But alongside the outrage and condemnation ran a predictable narrative: boys will be boys; they were just having a laugh.

Radio station Triple M parodied the incident in a crude re-writing of the Tigers' team song, which labelled it "a cheeky squeeze above the knees". And Sam Newman, a former panelist on the AFL Footy Show, dismissed the groping simply as evidence that the men involved "get on extremely well". 

Hockey, NRL, cricket: Australian sport's problem with personal boundaries.

The groping incidents have revived debate about the toxic culture in the AFL.

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But this kind of behaviour is not code-specific.

Several Australian sporting stars have performed acts on fellow players that, in the very least, send a confusing message about personal boundaries.

The most infamous example is that of John Hopoate, the Wests Tigers player who was banned from playing for 12 weeks after he inserted his finger into the rectums of three opponents during a 2001 game.

More recently, star Australian batsman Usman Khawaja was filmed repeatedly squeezing Adam Zampa’s backside during the national anthem ahead of a one-day international against New Zealand in 2016.

"It was all consensual," Khawaja tweeted after the footage appeared online. "Just having a joke with the debutant."

Baffled by the apparent lack of concern about the incident (it was largely met with quips and puns in both social and traditional media), Stuff writer, Laura Walters, sought the perspective of sports psychologist, Gary Hermansson, who urged us not to sexualise such behaviour.

"It's a way of belonging," he said. "It's always been there, it always will be probably because that's the nature of athletes."

Indeed, ALFW player and former Hockeyroo, Georgie Parker, has this week defended the banner image on her social media accounts. It features her with her hand on the backside of her Rio Olympics teammate, Kathryn Slattery. 

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Parker distinguished genital touching and groping from a "bum tap", which, she argued, is an embedded part of sporting culture.

For the record, Slattery seemed unbothered. When Parker first uploaded the picture to Instagram in 2019, she left a comment that read, "Come touch my butt again plz @georgieparker."

This kind of context is important, absolutely. 

But so is questioning stubborn cultures.

In most workplaces, placing a hand anywhere near a colleague's backside — even if they are a close friend, even if they are the new recruit and, yes, even if it's 'a joke' — is misconduct. 

It's only logical to wonder: why is the same not true in sport?

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