AFL

No room for smugness in long fight against bigotry

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.

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When Adam Goodes was abused by young Pies fan

Swans star Adam Goodes said he was 'gutted' by racial abuse from a 13-year-old girl in 2013 match against Collingwood, the game which opened the AFL's indigenous round.

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.

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.

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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

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