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Siren sounded on racism in football


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 club, as a code, as sport, as a society.

In fact, what they show is that 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 current round, an indigenous round, marks the anniversary. Winmar is back in town and has been all over 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 Adam Goodes against an individual. But let us be fair; really, he was pointing at what was in all respects a pocket. His antagonist is a girl who - and Goodes recognises this - did not understand the import 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 The Sunday Age, and even then was looked on as a bit of a curio.

Now, the delivering 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 recognise 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. Now, Goodes pointed at us, demanding that we have a look at ourselves, although 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 hours-long abuse, had no recourse other than to wait until the end of the game and point. Now, there is a process in place. Goodes could and did pause 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 either 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 also 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.

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 club 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 the airwaves, 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 minds instantly on the scourge of racism in football, which, despite a 20-year vigil, still is not extinct. This time, you could say, it had a point.

56 comments so far

  • Interesting isn’t it both incidents occurred while playing against Collingwood. Or is that just an unfortunate coincidence!

    Date and time
    May 27, 2013, 10:28AM
    • No coincidence. Magpie fans are scum. They should be made to play their next home game in an empty stadium but that would cause a revenue loss for the AFL so it wont happen. @Craig - you make these headlines by reading them. Dont be so naive

      Date and time
      May 27, 2013, 1:26PM
    • If the girl didn't think it was a racist taunt then she wasn't, it was - intention is the criteria, ignorance is an excuse in this case but Goodes was right to be offended and to report it.

      For me the bigger issue is; does the public have the right to offend the sensitivities of celebrities, sports stars, etc? What's the difference between that and school yard bullying? Or a publication of photographs taken by a high powered telephoto lens of a woman naked in her own bedroom? Or most of the celebrity drivel that powers magazines for women? We know it's not legal to hack their mobile phones. Why is it legal to invade their privacy or assault them verbally or in print? They know they are doing wrong and yet they are not punished?

      The AFL is saying no to racism and Milne is suggesting that this goes further. Just because you "put yourself out there" doesn't mean you are offering yourself as a human sacrifice and you need to "harden up". Assault is assault whether it is physical or emotional and it should be dealt with as such.

      Saying that let's not wipe out the good humoured sledging from the many wits that sit near the boundary of our great game. Discretion is the better part of umpiring as we saw this round. Maybe the all pervasive mobile phone/camera will help curb the less thoughtful tongues?

      Date and time
      May 28, 2013, 9:18AM
    • Of course supporters of other clubs are all sweet little darlings who never have a bad word for anyone. They say things like: "Jolly good show old chap. Your a worthy opponent." "Well adjudicated Mr Umpire, your fairness and understanding of the rules is top notch." "Well done Mr Indigenous first Australian. Your hard work and skill is a credit to your people." "That other team, they're playing well this year. If we lose to them it's no disgrace. They deserve any success they get."

      Psi Cop
      Date and time
      May 28, 2013, 10:25AM
    • Fair go!

      I'm a Swans fan but I will hotly dispute that Collingwood fans are any worse than any other fans.

      The club has done enormous good work in identifying and eliminating racism. Credit where credit's due please.

      Date and time
      May 28, 2013, 3:01PM
    • Geez NM, I think some might find the fact you called Collingwood scum offensive?but I guess it's ok to call Collingwood scum? To racially abuse Harry obrien, abuse Cloke, thomas and swan. From now on I will be filming the abuse Collingwood players get, looking forward to putting you anti Collingwood abusers on you tube.

      Date and time
      May 28, 2013, 9:00PM
    • Thanks for your contribution above MM - 'Magpie fans are scum.'

      Considering the context of the article, seeing a published comment like this reminds me of just how selective we are when determining what is and is not offensive.

      Well done The Age for publishing MM's comment.

      Offensive Irony
      Date and time
      May 28, 2013, 9:57PM
    • I'm a ching chong in HK that use to play the best game in the world!!

      Aussie Rules!!!

      during the late 70's and most of the 80's my dad would take me to every collingwood game!!

      My Uncle lived in Collingwood in the 70's.. the B+W runs deeeeep!!!

      I am a Ching Chong that has my life changed because of AFL footy!!!

      the perfect game!!

      just a video relating to the topic of racism..

      hong kong
      Date and time
      May 29, 2013, 3:24AM
  • What it says is that nothing has changed in 20 years. To draw any other conclusion is naïve. What I will say is that the Aust. Aborigine is the most racist group in Australia, l have been abused just for "being there" don't they understand I was born white, its not my fault!

    Date and time
    May 27, 2013, 11:30AM
    • I find this whole incident a bit strange...

      I am not an indigenous Australian, but when I was growing up many people I went to school with use to call me "ape", "gorilla" or "monkey", because presumably they thought I resembled a primate. I also note that Jason Dunstall has been repeatedly referred to as a gorilla (The Chief) on the "Footy Show" over a long period of time. I took the stirring in good humour, like Dunstall seems to, and I hadn''t really thought much of it until the weekend.

      Now I realise the term "monkey" or "ape" has been used as a derogatory term with racial overtones towards indigenous Australians in the past and I am also not disputing Adam Goodes' hurt at being called an "ape", nor do I condone bullying, however I am concerned that the racist card is being overplayed here.

      I appreciate that when you call a person a name you can't control the way they react. A glib remark can mean different things to different people based on their life experiences, however I would be interested to know whether the girl's comments were racially motivated. I am glad she has been offered counselling because I think there are some bigger issues, beyond the comment itself (the media circus for one), that she will now need to get her head around.

      I would appreciate more discussion around this issue as I am interested in what others have to say.

      Date and time
      May 27, 2013, 12:00PM

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