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No room for smugness in long fight against bigotry

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Chief sports columnist and associate editor with The Age

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When Adam Goodes was abused by young Pies fan

In May 2013 Swans star Adam Goodes was racially abused by a 13-year-old girl at the opening match of the indigenous round against Collingwood. This is how he and the team coaches reacted.

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Two images from 20 years apart - both of an indigenous man, a footballer, pointing in the face of racism - suggest that nothing has changed; that we have gone nowhere, as a code, as a sport, as a society.

In fact, what they show is there has been a fundamental change, though it is far from complete. Perhaps we in the AFL community did become a little too smug, thinking that gestures and ceremonies and totems would be enough; that we had fought the good fight, even the Goodes fight, and won. No longer.

In 1993, Nicky Winmar made his famous stand at Victoria Park. This round, indigenous round, marks the anniversary. Winmar is back in Melbourne and has been all over the media, reliving the moment, rehearsing the lessons, and on Friday night witnessing the inadvertent sequel.

Soldier for inclusion: Adam Goodes in Melbourne on Saturday talks at a news conference called to address the racial slur delivered by a 13-year-old girl.

Soldier for inclusion: Adam Goodes in Melbourne on Saturday talks at a news conference called to address the racial slur delivered by a 13-year-old girl. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

Then, Winmar stood alone against a crowd, ignorant and vile. Now, the AFL crowd stands with Goodes against an individual. But let us be fair - really, he was pointing at what was in all respects a pocket of fans. His antagonist is a girl who - and he recognises this - did not understand the importance of her action. It is precisely the point, but it also means there must be no more pointing from us. Henceforth, it must be the business of her parents, family and peers.

Then, the crowd's behaviour was considered normal, and would have attracted no further notice, nor excited any other comment, except for Wayne Ludbey's famous photograph, which appeared on the front of the next day's Sunday Age, and even then was looked upon as a bit of a curio. Now, the delivery of one racist epithet by one spectator horrified people at the ground, who quickly put two and two together, and scandalised the wider community.

Then, Winmar pointed at himself, effectively demanding that we recognised him for who he is, a proud black man, a man with feelings. Remember, this was still a year before Collingwood president Allan McAlister's infamous remark that indigenous people were welcome at the club as long as they behaved like whites, and five years before Michael Long drew his line in the Anzac Day sand.

Nicky Winmar raises his jumper in response to racial taunts at Victoria Park on Saturday 17 April 1993.

Nicky Winmar raises his jumper in response to racial taunts at Victoria Park on Saturday 17 April 1993. Photo: Wayne Ludbey

Now, Goodes pointed at us, effectively demanding we have a look at ourselves for the far-from-perfect football-going public we are, though I'm sure it would have pained him still to have to think in terms of him and us. He has always been, as well as a standard-bearer for the indigenous community, a soldier for inclusion.

Then, Winmar, despite daylong abuse, had no other recourse other than to wait until the end of the game and point. Now, there is a process in place. Goodes paused during the game to bring the incident to the attention of authorities, who acted. Spectators still are blind, or at least one-eyed, but football grounds have eyes and ears.

Then, the moment took a toll on Winmar. Always volatile anyway, he did not play for the next three weeks because of a dispute with St Kilda over injury payments. But you suspect he also felt a little isolated. He had not set out to be hero or villain.

Now, Sydney rallied around Goodes, and so did Collingwood, and on Saturday Goodes was able to achieve a form of catharsis in a series of interviews in which he made his genuine hurt plain, and his sorrow that after all these years, it had come to this again. But he also expressed his concern for his youthful and already repentant provocateur. ''Let's support her, please,'' he tweeted, so graciously.

Then, Collingwood was a club in the dark ages, and far from alone in that. Now, it is a club reshaped by Eddie McGuire. Whatever else you make of McGuire, on the matter of making Collingwood a club that can look the world in the eye in all it does, including the fight against racism, he has been unswerving. Last year, Collingwood fans reported a Collingwood fan for delivering a racist epithet to a Gold Coast player. Though distraught at the result on Friday night, McGuire made it his first business to go to the Swans' rooms, seek out Goodes to apologise, then take to airwaves, his natural habitat, not to make excuses, but amends.

Then, the aftermath of the Winmar incident rumbled on and on, but incoherently; no one knew what to do about it. Now, the Goodes incident concentrated all minds on the scourge of racism in football, which despite a 20-year vigil is still not extinct. This time, you could say, it had a point.

Twitter -@GregBaum

74 comments so far

  • When I lived in Australia from 1963 for 50 years, the then VFL was full of racists mugs and it appears that not much has changed. I was a soccer player in Melbourne and the kind of racists hurtful comments levelled towards me by those well informed intelligent Aussie rule people was the best form of racism I have ever experienced. Compared to them the then apartheid mob was merely apprentices in the trade of racist tirades.

    Commenter
    Diego Garcia
    Location
    Not here
    Date and time
    May 26, 2013, 12:03AM
    • WEll said....Footy/NRL/AFL etc should not carry the blame for the ingrained racism in Australian Society - Australians should have a good look at themselves and their malignant and wrong opinions and views about our indigenous people. Until the mainstream society takes on change and starts to educate our young properly about the history of this country, it will go on. The shame is palpable today....reading some of the ignorant comments on here confirms my opinion on this country's ugly racist culture.

      Commenter
      Soot
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      May 26, 2013, 10:38AM
    • I'm seeing a lot of comments comparing individuals. Comparing a 13yo girl to a 33yo athlete. That's not the point.
      The fact she didn't know it was racist? Also not the point.
      We need to stamp out this behaviour, malicious as well as ignorant racism.
      Stop making excuses & start reconciling these problems, coz I'm sure my 7yo daughter knows better than to call a national icon an "ape" & why that's unacceptable.
      Maybe if parents & other adult role models set a better example rather than bury their young in electronic devices & ignored these issues, we'd create a better society.

      Commenter
      SAM AYOUBI
      Date and time
      May 26, 2013, 10:46AM
    • To Dago Garcia- Check out your native Spain for current cuuting edge racism

      Commenter
      Ken
      Date and time
      May 26, 2013, 1:41PM
    • Hello ken, how typical, what makes you think that I am from spain? A name, I would like to share with you Ken that I am originally from the Island of Diego Garcia, read up a bit and find out what actaully happened to the inhabitants of Diego Garcia. Then you might understand what discrimination, racism and prejudice is all about.......But I am not holding my breath.

      Commenter
      Diego Garcia
      Location
      Not here
      Date and time
      May 26, 2013, 7:48PM
    • Eddie is right about the attacks on immigrants (457 visas, asylum seekers, etc) not being helpful. It starts at the top at our national borders.

      Add to this Melbourne's traditional attacks (e.g. by the State government) on other cities/states in Australia (e.g. Sydney) and you have a culture of discrimination on the basis of where you happen to be born or happen to live. It translates to our state borders, our towns, our cities, and even the suburbs within our cities.

      It's time us Victorians grew up and stopped discriminating against people on the basis of their background or origin.

      Commenter
      Bennopia
      Location
      West Footscray
      Date and time
      May 27, 2013, 2:14PM
  • What a beat up!

    Commenter
    Kouta
    Date and time
    May 26, 2013, 12:53AM
    • What a load of claptrap.

      Commenter
      John
      Date and time
      May 26, 2013, 5:34AM
      • Grow a brain...you are an embarrassment to us all.

        Commenter
        Soot
        Location
        sydney
        Date and time
        May 26, 2013, 10:40AM
      • The embarrassment is that a country that prided itself on producing some of the toughest sports people on Earth now produces blokes who run off crying because someone (a little girl) called them a name.

        Commenter
        John
        Date and time
        May 26, 2013, 5:03PM

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