Former NRL gender adviser Catharine Lumby expresses concern over league leadership

The NRL’s longtime gender adviser, Prof Catharine Lumby, has expressed her disappointment at finding out she no longer has a role to play with the league – and concern that years of work is in danger of being undone under the ARLC’s new leadership.

Lumby, a professor at University of Sydney and workplace diversity consultant, responded after being labelled an “attention seeker” by Peter V’landys for criticising the league’s leadership after the latest sex-tape scandal to hit the game.

“I’m disappointed because a really brilliant team of men and women have worked so hard on these issues for well over a decade,” Lumby told Guardian Australia. “It would be really great if the new leadership got their heads around that.”

Lumby had told Thursday’s Sunrise program that “some days I feel like I’m hitting my head against a wall, and frankly, I don’t know where the leadership in the NRL is on this any more”, after video footage, which allegedly showed a current Parramatta player having sex with a woman in a public bathroom, was circulated online earlier this week.

“I don’t see the same level of commitment I once saw, so I’m really reconsidering my position,” she said. “But I believe these issues remain very important right across our whole culture.”

ARLC chair V’landys said Lumby’s values did not align with those of the league and that the ARLC had no obligation to seek advice from her, indicating that her consultancy was no longer required.

“She criticised me for not contacting her; why do I need to contact her? She has no role with us,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald. “I have no time for her. Her values do not agree with ours. All committees she was on have been disbanded. She just seeks attention … she is not a spokesperson, she doesn’t represent us.”

Lumby was first employed by the ARLC in an advisory capacity in 2004 and has since been working with the league on a pro-bono basis. She was on one committee – the wellbeing and education committee, which had a number of different incarnations over the years – and was not aware it had been disbanded.

Lumby said she had never been contacted by V’landys since he took over the role of ARCL chair from Peter Beattie in October 2019 and that her association with the league had never been formally ended.

“Fifteen years of unpaid work, which I was asked to do, does not deserve to be rewarded with comments like ‘who is she’ and ‘she’s an attention seeker’,” she said. “The only reason I ever worked with the NRL is that I believe in the game, I care about women’s rights.

“What I care about are the issues and I do seek attention for these issues. I do not want to see women sexually assaulted or harassed off the field. But it’s not about me, it’s about a team of people in the NRL who, over the 15 years I have been involved, have worked on these issues. And focused not just in some sort of random way but in an evidence-based way on changing the culture.”

Lumby said research showed the work undertaken over the past decade and a half had begun to make a cultural difference and that attitudes and behaviours were changing in the right direction.

“It does seem to me that the current leadership is not educated about the history of how much has been done,” she said. “We are going through a moment of cultural reckoning on these issues and the NRL should be claiming credit and should get on the front foot, not the back foot.

“What we’re seeing is a defensive and reactive response, which is understandable, but probably not productive in the long term.”

It is not clear whether the role of NRL gender adviser still exists or if a replacement has been appointed. The NRL has been contacted for comment.