Menu Close

Racism in footy is not as bad as you may think

Majak Daw has been praised for his measured reaction to racist abuse.

This week the media in AFL states have been discussing racist comments made by members of crowds at Australian Rules games.

Sudanese-born North Melbourne rookie Majak Daw was racially abused while playing at Port Melbourne for his club’s VFL affiliate Werribee.

On the same weekend, Collingwood President Eddie McGuire confronted an opposition fan making comments about indigenous player Andrew Krakouer.

Earlier in the season, Hawthorn’s indigenous star forward Lance Franklin was the victim of racist abuse while playing at York Park in Tasmania.

The AFL has long been considered a leader in tackling racism. Are we seeing a resurgence in racist abuse by football fans, or is it a problem that simply cannot ever be “cured”?

RMIT expert Stephen Alomes explains.

Is racism against players genuinely a major problem in Australian Rules football?

It is not a problem at AFL level except for the 0.001 members of the crowd. We had one at York Park in Launceston earlier this year, we had Majak Daw [being abused at TEAC Oval] and there was the stuff about Andrew Krakouer on Friday night about his personal history and a conviction he has.

Actual racial comments from the terraces are rare. Abuse yes, certainly abuse of umpires but abuse is part of the culture of the game. But there is a line drawn at racial remarks.

How does the AFL compare worldwide in terms of racism from the crowd?

I think the worst place of all was Italy, particularly the behaviour of the Lazio fans. That is why the different European soccer authorities have developed campaigns against racism, but they have come ten years after the AFL which developed its campaign and made its decisions in the 1990s.

In the 1990s there was the “Indigenous” cover of the 1993 Grand Final record and the Norm Smith medal was won by an indigenous player in Michael Long. They had indigenous artwork in the Record. In the VFL/AFL anniversary, they had indigenous artwork by Ginger Riley in their art exhibition.

Michael Long led a campaign which brought about Rule 32 which bans racial and religious vilification, supported by others including Jim Stynes and some Italian players.

The AFL is been a world leader and is really advanced on other codes, far, far advanced. That is why racist behaviour almost never happens in the AFL because you’ll be subject to penalties, conciliation and mediation and finally to further education.

There is some problem at the local but sport reflects society and our society is not completely rid of racism. Australia is, except for the shameful Aboriginal history, one of the least prejudiced countries in the world, but there is still some prejudice.

Does the abuse of Majak Daw – from a relatively recent arrival cohort in the Sudanese – demonstrate this is really a problem which can only be managed rather than solved? Will there always be that “one peanut” out there?

The “one peanut” principle is a very good description but the grounds have also brought in measures to stop that. There are signs at Docklands asking for people to restrain bad language, there are plenty of attendants and police. There is a sign at the MCG giving you a number to text if you witness bad behaviour.

The “one peanut” is a problem but there has been progress. The Fremantle side on Saturday had in it Matt De Boer and Tendai Mzungu. In that sense the Dockers represent Perth which has a big white South African population and a growing black African population from South Africa and Zimbabwe and elsewhere.

Prejudice is very hurtful for very difficult times as both Aborigines and Sudanese people have gone through. But the original aim of prejudice was to put you off your game. So Tony Lockett gets told he is fat, Tony Liberatore that he is too small.

But there is now a limit and the AFL Players Association (AFLPA) is behind that limit. But you can’t ensure perfect behaviour from the whole society.

The next step: tackling homophobia?

The AFLPA has been involved, and several players were on a poster, about ending homophobic remarks and they were disappointed that Jason Akermanis made his comments last year at the very time they were about to develop a similar campaign.

I was at Docklands this week and I heard a player called a “faggot”. You hear it less [nowadays] but you hear it more than you hear racism. Then there is the old thing of accusing someone of being a girl. One of the TAC Cup sides has a female assistant coach and we have more and more female umpires [so] that also may be challenged

Want to write?

Write an article and join a growing community of more than 179,300 academics and researchers from 4,900 institutions.

Register now