Reading ‘Night Games’ by Anna Krien could not have come at a more chance time for me, as I finished the last page and set out that night for an end of season function held by the AFL team my husband follows. We were guests of sponsors, and due to the night being consumed by speeches and awards, I had ample time to peruse the crowd and watch at close range the players interact with their support staff, sponsors, and of course, fans. Everything Krien had written about in ‘Night Games’ was on display: the adoration from the sponsors and loyal club members of these “gods” from the field was palpable; the heavy responsibility placed on boys, many of whom were only in their early twenties was clearly apparent as they took their acceptance speeches very seriously; the vision of the patient wives and girlfriends sitting quietly and adjusting their strapless gowns as they listened attentively to the anecdotes of their partners at the tables; and the Chairman and senior staff jovially ripping into the other clubs and proudly talking of the effort and loyalty of “their boys” to the rapturous applause of the audience. I was impressed, yes, by the sophisticated speeches of those awarded best and fairest awards – and I do understand the importance of sport in the lives of these players and their fans. I even regard some – I emphasise some - of the players in this particular team as very decent role models in our society. But goodness – I bet these boys get away with a lot. And all because they can kick and catch a ball....
Anna Krien beautifully articulates this ambivalence between admiring the players and enjoying the sport - and at the same time being deeply uncomfortable with how the fans, the media and even our pollies at times, ‘excuse’ the behaviour of some of the most well known players. She analyses this ambivalence via an exploration of a sexual assault case involving players and hangers on with the Collingwood club and a female who attended a private party of one of the players. The case itself is fascinating from a moral and legal perspective, but I also enjoyed how Krien explored wider issues in the text such as the representation of women on sporting boards, the treatment of female journalists covering sport, and the perspectives of detectives investigating these sorts of cases (illustrating attitudes which were very balanced and offered myself some reassurance that the police force are, mostly, sensitively in tune with the nuances of sexual assault cases). Krien was able to become close with the defendant and his family, and explore his side of the allegation, but she was unable to communicate with the complainant and her evidence was kept confidential from the press (and rightly so) – I did not think this detracted from the resolution of the text, and in fact, this even more so highlighted how complex these cases are and the difficulty in coming to a satisfactory conclusion. I thought the most telling questions that Krien raised for consideration were those posed by the defendant’s family - what sort of girl would put herself in the situation under investigation, and what sort of girl has sex with multiple partners on one night – and the question raised by one detective from the Sex Crimes Unit who asked if police were expected to be investigators of every ‘regrettable sex’ episode, as seemed to be many of these very ambiguous assaults with little tangible proof of consent or otherwise. Both suggestions and perspectives are highly prevalent in our society but make a reader such as myself very uncomfortable about the perception many have on women and their rights to sexual freedom. Krien notably explores her own concern here, while not being heavy handed in an overly pro feminist stance. The point to note about ‘Night Games’ is how many issues are raised for consideration – what a complex topic this is, that provokes so many of our prejudices and holds a mirror to the shades of grey we have in our value systems regarding sexual behaviour.
Krien has written an immensely important text here but to her great credit as well, has treated the topic with appropriate gravitas while still maintaining a page turning style. I have recommended ‘Night Games’ to many – and I thank Krien for turning my night out with the AFL club into a more thought provoking exercise than it might have previously been.
*This review has been linked as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge