Wp/nys/Racism in AFL

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Australian Football's premier professional competition is the Australian Football League (AFL). It is THE Aboriginal sport, but that has not protected it from having some racist supporters. An article in The Age provides a quick overview of many of the more notorious past incidents of racism in AFL (up to 2017).[1] This bibol is not meant to be simply a list of racist incidents, but to provide context about some incidents, to applaud positive steps against racism, and to highlight when the AFL has supported or not supported players who have been racially attacked.

The most significant comparison of the treatment of Aboriginal people in Australia today would be with the treatment of Māori people in New Zealand. But this sentence itself is problematic, since although it is meaningful to talk of the treatment of Aboriginal people in Australia today, talking about the treatment of Māori people in New Zealand is meaningless today - it is not just that it is a non-issue, it makes no sense as an issue for New Zealanders.[2]

Nicky Winmar

Statue of Nicky Winmar pointing to his skin at Optus Stadium

On the 17 April 1993 in a match for St Kilda against Collingwood in Round 4 of the 1993 season, Noongar man Nicky Winmar was racially abused by members of the Collingwood cheersquad, who yelled at him to "go and sniff some petrol" and "go walkabout where you came from".[3] At the conclusion of the game, which St Kilda won by 22 points, Winmar lifted up his jumper and, facing to the crowd, pointed to his skin. The following day, a photo (for copyright reasons the photo is not published here, but can be seen at the English Wikipedia page on Nicky Winmar) of Winmar's gesture, taken by Wayne Ludbey, was published in the Sunday Age under the headline "Winmar: I'm black and proud of it", with the Sunday Herald Sun publishing a similar photograph under the caption "I've got guts".[4] Winmar's gesture, described as a "powerful statement", an "anti-racist symbol",[5] and one of the "most poignant" images in Australian sport, has been credited as a catalyst for the movement against racism in Australian football,[6] and compared to the black power salute performed by American athletes at the 1968 Summer Olympics in terms of impact.[7] The event inspired Aboriginal singer-songwriter Archie Roach to write the song "Colour of Your Jumper".[8]

A life size statue showing Nicky Winmar at the moment that iconic photograph was taken was unveiled at the new Optus Stadium in Perth on Saturday, 6 July 2019. Mr Winmar made a speech at the unveiling.[9]

Michael Long


See "The Long Walk", Michael Long's 2004 walk from Melbourne to Canberra.[10]

Mr Long played for Essendon Football Club between 1989 wer 2001. He did his "Long Walk" to meet the then Prime Minister John Howard in response to ATSIC being shut down and the continuing disempowerment of Aboriginal people. Mr Long received great support from the AFL community and leadership on his walk and afterwards. Every year, prior to the Dreamtime match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), people walk from Federation Square to the MCG as part of a community celebration called "The Long Walk" to promote reconciliation. The walk has grown in stature. In 2016 it was done by the then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten.[11]

See also Whadjuk Nyungar Clinton Pryor's "Walk for Justice" from 2016 - 2017 to protest about the continuing disempowerment of Aboriginal people.

Adam Goodes


On 24 May 2013, during the AFL's annual Indigenous Round when Adam Goodes was playing for Sydney Swans against Collingwood, a 13-year-old Collingwood girl supporter called Goodes an "ape". Upon hearing the abuse, Goodes pointed the girl out to security, who ejected her from the stadium.[12] After the game, Collingwood president Eddie McGuire apologised to Goodes on behalf of the club. McGuire said that Collingwood had a zero-tolerance policy towards racism, but also said that the girl, who also later apologised to Goodes, did not know that what she had said was a racial slur.[13] Goodes said that he was "gutted" and that he had "never been more hurt" but nevertheless called on the community to support the girl instead of blaming her.[14]

The immediate reaction was support for Goodes, but over the following years, and especially in 2015, Goodes was repeatedly and loudly booed by opposition fans. The booing was motivated by racism, but not primarily because Goodes was Aboriginal (after all other Aboriginal players weren't repeatedly booed), it was because he stood up and dared to challenge racism and thus challenged the racists' view of what place in Australian society Aboriginal people should take.[15][16] The AFL's weak-kneed non-response encouraged the booing of Goodes,[17][18] and Aboriginal elders had to plead vainly with the AFL to take direct action to stop the booing.[19] Even those who booed Goodes just because they thought it was a fun part of the game gave cover and support to racists.[18] And what to make of people who say he should just "man" up and take the racist insults?[20] N.B. criticisms of Goodes for the way the police interviewed the girl without her parents being present are off the mark since Goodes had no influence on how the police interview was conducted.

On 29 May 2015, again in the AFL's annual Indigenous Round, when the Swans demolished Carlton Blues, Goodes did a war dance with a spear throwing celebration towards the Carlton fans after kicking a goal. As usual he had been booed by opposing fans during the match. This celebration did not go down well with the radio broadcaster Alan Jones who accused him of "provoking people" - although clearly it was Goodes who could claim to have been provoked by the consistently appalling and bullying behaviour of opposing fans.[21] Goodes said after the incident that the dance was based on one he learned from under-16s indigenous team the Flying Boomerangs, and that it was intended as an expression of indigenous pride during Indigenous Round, not as a means of offending or intimidating the crowd.[22] On 26 July 2019 Goodes copped another torrent of abuse from opposing fans during the Swans' match against West Coast Eagles. Goodes' teammate Lewis Jetta performed a war dance and threw an imaginary spear at a section of the West Coast crowd in support of his friend.[21] Goodes took personal leave and almost retired after the West Coast match, but decided to come back after seeing on TV the outpouring of support for him by Swans' supporters.[23]

An interesting comparison was drawn between reactions to the Haka and reactions to Goodes spear throwing goal celebration by an Aboriginal health expert with RMIT University, assistant professor Aunty Kerrie Doyle, which highlights how Māori are a welcome part of New Zealand culture but Aboriginal people are marginalised in Australia:

Importantly given the crisis with young Aboriginal suicides,[24] Doyle also said:

title Adam Goodes Indigenous Round goal celebration - not acceptable?

title Māori traditional welcome for Hillary Clinton at New Zealand Parliament - acceptable (see from 1:30 minutes on into the video)

Goodes did retire from AFL at the end of the 2015 season, tired of the constant racism and lack of support from the AFL leadership, and having lost his sense of fun in playing AFL. He always got tremendous support and respect from Swans' supporters and players, and in the end much needed visible support from other AFL teams and players,[23][25] and even the then Prime Minister Tony Abbott and opposition leader Bill Shorten.[26][27]

When he was named a brand ambassador for the department store David Jones in 2015 after his retirement, the racist abuse quickly followed. It proved what many have been saying: that the booing on the football field wasn't because of how he played the game.[28]



In 2019 a documentary film "The Final Quarter" by director Ian Darling has been made entirely from archival footage of Goodes and the events that preceded his 2015 departure from football after the booing episodes. The film premiered at the Sydney Film Festival on June 7 2019. A second film on Goodes's departure from footy, titled "The Australian Dream", will premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival in August 2019.[29]

Just before the premiere of "The Final Quarter", the AFL and its 18 clubs issued an unreserved apology for the sustained racism experienced by Goodes:[30][31]

"The Australian Dream" is difficult viewing because you can see and hear about the effect of the booing on Goodes. This documentary had interviews with Goodes about the booing, unlike "The Final Quarter". The documentary, despite being difficult viewing, is a positive step because it starts the conversation about ongoing racism in Australia.[32] Goodes said the booing controversy changed his view of the game:

2019 AFL season


During the 2019 AFL season several incidents of racism using social media against AFL players hit the news. That this many incidents made the news is a sign that the AFL has become much more aware of racism and its effects on its Aboriginal players and supporters and that the AFL has decided to make a stand against racism.[33] So the number of incidents reported is actually a good sign![34] Racist attacks using social media were reported against:

Use of the term 'monkey' or 'ape'


The attacks often used the term 'monkey' or 'ape', as in the attack on Adam Goodes (see above). Chance Bateman in a West Coast Eagles video against racism explained why this term cuts so deep.[35]

  Eagles condemn racism - Chance Bateman

The scientific evidence is clear that all people evolved from a common ancestor with chimpanzees and bonobos around 6 to 8 million years ago, and all humans today are descended from hominins who originally evolved in Africa. Insulting someone by calling them a 'monkey' is clearly ignorant since the insult applies as much to the name caller themselves as to any one else, even more so really since the name caller self identifies as ignorant.

The insult is actually about the way Europeans have tried to differentiate themselves, biologically and culturally, in an effort to maintain superiority over other people. It is an attempt to justify indigenous dispossession and other benefits of colonialism. It is no surprise that this racial supremacist view is associated with slavery in the Americas, where it was economically advantageous to enslave Africans to work on plantations, and with Terra Nullius in Australia where it was economically convenient to ignore Aboriginal people's rights.[39] This racial supremacist view ironically arose partly to counter the growing anti-slavery movement and the idea that all men are equal, as highlighted in the history of the United States with the contradictory position of the Slave States allowing slavery whilst supporting the Constitution of the United States which proudly proclaims:

See also


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  1. "Infamous AFL racism incidents". The Age. 11 April 2017. Retrieved 4 May 2019
  2. Jeremy Stanford. "Booing Adam Goodes: are we even aware we're racists?". ABC News. 28 July 2015. Retrieved 28 April 2019
  3. "Neil Elvis 'Nicky' Winmar". St Kilda Football Club. Archived 12 September 2009. Retrieved 31 May 2012
  4. Ahmed, Nabila (2003). "The day the game changed". The Age online. Published 19 April 2003. Retrieved 31 May 2012
  5. Lawson, Mark (2012). "Passing the football racial test". Financial Review online. Published 28 May 2012. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  6. Darcy, Luke (2010). "Winmar encapsulates indigenous spirit". Australian Football League. Published 21 May 2010. Archived 25 May 2010. Retrieved 29 April 2019
  7. Klugman, Matthew and Osmond, Gary. "That Picture - Nicky Winmar and the History of an Image". Australian Aboriginal Studies. Iss. 2. 2009. pp 78-89. ISSN 0729-4352. Retrieved 29 Apr 19
  8. Pech, Jono (25 May 2013). "Two decades on, a gesture still inspires" The Standard. Retrieved 28 May 2013
  9. Joe Spagnolo. "AFL legend Nicky Winmar in tears as landmark statue unveiled at Optus Stadium". The West Australian. 6 July 2019. Retrieved 7 July 2019
  10. Our Story. The Long Walk Charity. Archived 17 February 2017. Retrieved 28 July 2017
  11. Eliza Borrello. "The Long Walk: Malcolm Turnbull, Bill Shorten take steps towards Aboriginal reconciliation". ABC News. 28 May 2016. Retrieved 30 April 2019
  12. Megan Levy. "Ejected teenage fan didn't know 'ape' was racist". Sydney Morning Herald. 28 May 2013. Retrieved 27 April 2019
  13. Matt Windley. "Eddie McGuire apologises to Adam Goodes after a Magpies fan racially vilified the Sydney champion". Herald Sun. 24 May 24 2013. Retrieved 27 April 2019
  14. Adrian Crawford. "Adam Goodes 'gutted' by racial slur but wants AFL fan educated". ABC News. 25 May 2013. Retrieved 27 April 2019
  15. Jake Niall. "Adam Goodes debate: For too many, it's a case of 'don't think, boo'". The Age. 31 May 2015
  16. Steven Schubert. "Adam Goodes booed because he speaks out for Indigenous people, Senator Nova Peris says". ABC News. 29 July 2015. Retrieved 28 April 2019
  17. Richard Hinds. "Jamie Young responding to racist taunt means A-League must now confront its Adam Goodes moment". ABC News. 12 November 2018. Retrieved 28 April 2019
  18. 18.0 18.1 "Adam Goodes booing a shameful moment in AFL history, says Gerard Whateley". ABC News. 27 July 2015. Retrieved 28 April 2019
  19. Peter Rolfe. "Anyone who boos should be evicted, Aboriginal elders say". Herald Sun. 31 July 2015. Retrieved 28 April 2019
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Melissa Davey. "Adam Goodes should apologise, says mother of girl who called him an ape". The Guardian. 30 July 2015. Retrieved 28 April 2019
  21. 21.0 21.1 Megan Levy. "Swans star Adam Goodes always plays the victim: Alan Jones. The Age. 29 July 29 2015. Retrieved 28 April 2019
  22. Adam Curley. "Proud Goodes stands by war cry celebration". Australian Football League. 30 May 2015. Retrieved 30 April 2019
  23. 23.0 23.1 Adam Curley. "Goodes reveals he almost retired after booing controversy". AFL News. 9 October 2015. Retrieved 29 April 2019
  24. Brooke Fryer. "Indigenous youth suicide at crisis point". NITV. 15 Jan 2019. Retrieved 29 April 2019
  25. Adam Curley. "Swans champion Adam Goodes calls it a day". AFL News. 9 October 2015. Retrieved 29 April 2019
  26. Latika Bourke. "Adam Goodes deserves respect and civility, says Tony Abbott". Sydney Morning Herald. 31 July 2015. Retrieved 29 April 2019
  27. "AFL captains want Adam Goodes booing to stop, Prime Minister Tony Abbott urges respect". ABC News. 31 July 2015. Retrieved 29 April 2019
  28. Patricia Karvelas. "The racists are exposed, now let's end the stalking of Adam Goodes". ABC News. 20 October 2015. Retrieved 28 April 2019
  29. "Adam Goodes documentary maker urges Australians to judge impact of racism on AFL star". ABC News. 4 June 2019. Retrieved 4 June 2019
  30. 30.0 30.1 "AFL apologises unreservedly for failures over racism faced by Adam Goodes". ABC News. June 7 2019. Retrieved 8 June 2019
  31. 31.0 31.1 Sarah Black. "AFL, clubs unreservedly apologise to Goodes for not 'standing with him' ". AFL News. June 7 2019. Retrieved 8 June 2019
  32. 32.0 32.1 Catherine Murphy. "Adam Goodes says he hated the football field during end of booing saga". ABC News. 1 August 2019. Retrieved 2 August 2019
  33. 33.0 33.1 "AFL industry set to 'name and shame' culprit behind racist comment aimed at Eddie Betts". ABC News. 25 February 2019. Retrieved 2 May 2019
  34. 34.0 34.1 David Prestipino. "Eagles send a message as 'keyboard coward' has Tigers membership cut". The Age. 26 March 2019. Retrieved 2 May 2019
  35. 35.0 35.1 Clint Thomas. "West Coast Eagles release video to condemn Liam Ryan racial slurs posted on Instagram". ABC News. 26 March 2019. Retrieved 2 May 2019
  36. Melanie Dinjaski. "Adelaide back Eddie Betts after AFL legend cops shocking racist slur on social media". Nine World of Sports. 23 February 2019. Retrieved 2 May 2019
  37. "Tim Kelly’s family subjected to vile racial abuse on Instagram". PerthNow. 1 March 2019. Retrieved 2 May 2019
  38. Clint Thomas. "Chance Bateman helps AFL's West Coast Eagles take stand against 'heartbreaking' racism". ABC News. 6 April 2019. Retrieved 2 May 2019
  39. James Bradley. "The ape insult: a short history of a racist idea". The Conversation. 31 May 2013. Retrieved 8 July 2019
  40. Mark Rigby. "Racism, recognition and reconciliation in AFL: A young player's perspective". ABC News. Retrieved 2 June 2017