Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane has said that if the vilification of Adam Goodes does not stop, players may have to take matters “into their own hands” and walk off the field in protest.
Soutphommasane said the booing of Goodes was racist, had gone too far and was damaging not just the game but also our society.
In a speech – Combating Racism, Reclaiming Patriotism – at the Australian National University, Soutphommasane said the booing was “of an ugly and unedifying nature.
"It has everything to do with Goodes standing up against racism and speaking out about indigenous issues.
"Goodes has been a public figure not afraid of challenging prejudice, not afraid of asking questions about Australian history and society. He has done it in ways that have made some people feel uncomfortable.”
It beggared belief to think those who booed Goodes did not know what they were doing. “As others have noted, many may be joining in with the booing because they are seeking to put a proud Aboriginal man ‘in his place’ – because he has dared to speak out on issues touching on race,” Soutphommasane said.
Soutphommasane said that with each match and each week that the booing was tolerated, “more and more people are being given licence to degrade, humiliate and intimidate – to believe that they can hound someone who speaks out about racism into silence.
"It is an unfortunate sign of the times that this has been allowed to go on for too long, to the point where there is now even the prospect that one of the greats of the sport may be booed into retirement.”
It was welcome that the AFL had issued a statement making it clear that racism had no place in the game, Soutphommasane said. “We can only hope that the AFL, its clubs and captains can help put this to an end.
"If things do not improve – and assuming Goodes plays on – it may have to come to the players taking matters into their own hands.
"In Europe, there have been occasions in football when teams have walked off the pitch in protest against racist abuse. What an indictment on our society it would be, were things to come to reach such a point.”
Soutphommasane said that Goodes, who is an ambassador for the Human Rights Commission’s Racism: It Stops with Me campaign, had made a significant impact.
“In taking a stand against racism, he has inspired many, empowering others to do the same. And, partly because of that, he is now the target of despicable behaviour.
"Adam Goodes is a champion of football, an advocate for human rights, a man of integrity. He deserves our respect. It is not him, but those targeting him, who deserve our contempt.”
Soutphommasane also expressed concern that organised racist movements seemed to be revitalised, pointing to the Reclaim Australia rallies, where “far right, racial supremacist agitators have been visibly present”.
Leadership was important in countering extremism. Soutphommasane welcomed that musicians Jimmy Barnes, John Farnham and John Williamson had rejected the use of their songs at the Reclaim Australia rallies.
“We must also see national leadership from all sides of politics in responding to racism and religious bigotry.
"It is surprising that national political leaders have not said more to date. Yet they should be emphatic in rejecting the unedifying messages that have been sent by anti-Islam protesters. We must never be complacent about our social cohesion and national unity.”