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Not just Collingwood, AFL, we all need to do better on racism

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Moore was earnest in his wish for Collingwood – the team his father captained – to be a better version of itself. “We’re going to champion that change,” he said.

Hearing Moore, I was struck by the gulf between Collingwood’s embarrassing racial history and the values of many contemporary players like Moore, whose generation is better equipped to navigate the complex contours of modern racism than older Australians. This included the misunderstood concept of “systemic racism” that became the banner headline from Do Better.

I also wondered how other important non-footy institutions would cope with a similarly critical self-examination, as Collingwood’s.

Collingwood’s Darcy Moore. “We are going to champion that change.″⁣

Collingwood’s Darcy Moore. “We are going to champion that change.″⁣Credit:Getty Images

Collingwood’s racial reckoning – an expression of sorrow for failing, most egregiously with Indigenous people – was overdue, irrespective of Do Better’s flaws. The contemporaneous apologies to Winmar, Michael Long and Adam Goodes, were inadequate, since they confined incidents as isolated events, rather than periodic outbreaks of an underlying pathogen.

But if we in the media and those in the political, academic and business realms can – and did – castigate Collingwood and the AFL, we cannot spare ourselves, either.

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This newspaper, for instance, has no Indigenous journalists on staff. Further, The Age has employed only one journalist with a known Indigenous background (Reko Rennie, now an accomplished artist) in living memory. The paper is seeking to redress this failing and has advertised for an Indigenous reporter.

If The Age were to commission a pair of academics with an activist bent, such as Larissa Behrendt and Lindon Coombes (Do Better’s authors), with a brief to review decades of racial behaviours, I have little doubt that we would come up short and cop a whack. Indeed, the very fact that a relatively educated staff profess avowedly tolerant beliefs, perversely, might be the source of complacency.

I’ve had innumerable conversations with club and AFL officials about racism; precious few that looked inwardly at my media workplaces. The AFL, for all its self-interested pursuit of diversity-derived government and sponsorship dollars, has 10 per cent of (male) players who are Indigenous, about triple the national percentage.

If culture and representation are separate things, representation invariably changes culture.

Football, thus, has been forced to deal with racism. Conversely, there’s less risk of racial blow-up if you’ve hardly anyone (Indigenous especially) to offend.

Sam Newman in blackface after Nicky Winmar didn't appear on The Footy Show in 1999.

Sam Newman in blackface after Nicky Winmar didn’t appear on The Footy Show in 1999.

Channel Nine, owner of this masthead, would not fare well either if subjected to a Collingwood-like inquiry. Some of Sam Newman’s Footy Show antics, flanked by Eddie, such as wearing blackface (1999), wouldn’t look flash.

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A review of some outlets might ponder coverage of Sudanese gangs, considering whether such fearful stories – reheats, really, of Asian gang scares in the ’80s – stoke emissions of xenophobia.

Whatever you think of their past and present policies and careful contortions on race, the ALP and Liberal Party would be condemned simply for not having anyone of Indigenous heritage elected to the federal lower house until 2016 (Linda Burney) and 2010 (Ken Wyatt) respectively.

Racist attacks brought Adam Goodes’ career to an end.

Racist attacks brought Adam Goodes’ career to an end.Credit:Sebastian Costanzo

“If there were to be similar scrutiny applied to other institutions in Australia, you would find plentiful evidence of systemic and structural racism. That would be the case not only of sporting bodies but also of government institutions, of companies and many private bodies,” said Tim Soutphommasane, Racial Discrimination Commissioner for the Australian Human Rights Commission from 2013 to 2018, now professor in political theory at Sydney University.

Soutphommasane saw Collingwood’s issues as more reflective of society than exceptional, having authored the AHRC 2018, Leading For Change report that found non-Europeans (4.7 percent) and especially Indigenous Australians (0.4 percent) heavily under-represented in leadership positions across important institutions.

Sport and AFL are powerful tools, as reaction to Adam Goodes’ booing demonstrated. But there’s an emotional immaturity about a country so reliant on sport to confront racial questions, that pays greater attention to a footy club’s review than government’s Closing The Gap report.

Footy’s role must be in perspective. We all need to do better.

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