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It was anything but a proud day for Collingwood, Eddie

McGuire was right only about the making of history, for this was not a day of pride. Or it should not have been sold as one.

As several watchers observed, if this had been a day of pride, why were there no sponsor logos in the background when the president, chief executive Mark Anderson and board members Jodie Sizer and Peter Murphy (Sizer providing the much-needed credibility of an Indigenous voice) faced the music?

McGuire was right only about the making of history, for this was not a day of pride. Or it should not have been sold as one.

This was a day of deep embarrassment for the football club that has the biggest media footprint in the code, as the report acknowledged systemic racism and set forth a series of 18 recommendations to combat racism in future.

Collingwood was making a confession, and, from his words and defensive posture at the media conference, it was as though McGuire wanted immediate absolution – for everyone to congratulate him and the club he’s led for 22 years – simply for admitting to failures and committing to “Do Better,” as the report was titled.

The media conference, thus, quickly took on a combative and defensive tone, as McGuire was peppered with questions about his own accountability, to which he responded with characteristic bravado.

No, he would not step down now a year before his scheduled exit. No, he was not humbled by the report.

Remarkably, he did not even acknowledge that, when the report singled out the culture of individuals “having an unhealthy degree of influence over club culture” that this was likely pointing to the president. If not him, then who was it referencing?

From his words and defensive posture at the media conference, it was as though McGuire wanted immediate absolution – for everyone to congratulate him and the club he’s led for 22 years – simply for admitting to failures.

When it was pointed out that Collingwood had not one Indigenous player on their AFL (men’s) playing list in 2021, McGuire did not say, as he might have, that this was regrettable; rather, he pointed to the fact – which I saw first-hand – that the Magpies had bid on a number of Indigenous players (in other clubs’ academies) at the draft and been unable to land one.

If the report portrayed contrition and a desire to make amends, McGuire placed far greater store in the latter than than the former.

But the report findings – rightly called “confronting” by Murphy – were no surprise, based on what was known about the process undertaken by the academics.

From the moment the club announced that professor Larissa Behrendt would lead a review into Collingwood’s handling of racism, it was obvious that this would be a painful exercise and one that would involve some measure of contrition and – if the club was to be believed – repair.

Eddie McGuire fronts the press over a leaked report of systemic racism at the club on Monday.

Eddie McGuire fronts the press over a leaked report of systemic racism at the club on Monday. Credit:Joe Armao

The report delivered. It did not spare Collingwood, nor the leadership of McGuire and his board, as it highlighted the club’s inability to deal with racism – and with the complaints that had periodically been levelled – over a period, although it did not address Heritier Lumumba’s case, on the grounds that the 2010 premiership player had chosen not to play ball with the review.

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This report had parallels with Essendon’s notorious 2013 report by Ziggy Switkowski into what was termed “supplements program” in that the club’s own internal review was damning, but it had to sidestep the issue that had prompted the probe in the first place (ASADA’s investigation).

In Collingwood’s case, the report was in response to Lumumba’s allegations of racism, which Collingwood – also facing a Supreme Court writ from Lumumba – would not deal with while the player concerned declined to participate.

Collingwood, doubtless, will seek to make good on their pledge to implement the 18 recommendations. The most urgent need, though, is for the Magpies to have Indigenous talent on their playing list: players are the agents of change at clubs – as Hawthorn, which hitherto had a dismal history with Aboriginal footballers, demonstrated when they recruited Chance Bateman, Lance Franklin, Cyril Rioli and Shaun Burgoyne.

But, it’s also plain that the task of putting the past behind them will be much easier when they have a president who doesn’t have to defend the past.

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