An increase in reports of racial vilification at community club level is concerning the AFL a week after Adelaide’s Taylor Walker was reprimanded for racially abusing Robbie Young.
- The AFL inclusion and social policy manager said high-profile racist incidents often seem to spark more of the same
- A local player whose claim that he was racially abused “could not be substantiated” said that finding made him feel like a liar
- A number of past and present Indigenous AFL players have spoken out about the issue this week
AFL inclusion and social policy manager Tanya Hosch told ABC Sport there was a recent spate of incidents in junior and senior grades after England footballers were abused on social media about their European championship loss.
“I knew they’d be racially vilified and when that happened, I knew that we’d see a spike here,” she said.
The league is concerned Walker’s incident might have the same influence.
“And it won’t just find its way in sport, it’ll impact people’s workplaces, it’ll impact the schoolyard,” Hosch said.
“I almost think some people read it as permission. And the tension that is always below the surface anyway just becomes a bit more unleashed.”
The AFL would not confirm the number of cases in lower leagues.
One incident involved a not guilty tribunal finding in Melbourne’s Northern Football Netball League.
Bundoora player Kain Proctor said he was racially abused, but the league said the accusation “could not be substantiated”, which left Proctor disillusioned.
Ms Hosch said the AFL wanted to work with competitions to improve their processes.
“I think we have to recognise that a lot of these leagues are run through the heart and passion of volunteers, who might ordinarily deal with a tribunal matter concerning a bump or something of that nature, that find vilification matters much more challenging,” she said.
“And it’s only going to be working together that we can improve those practices. And making sure that you have volunteers and contributors to these processes who’ve got the lived experience of knowing what vilification is like, to bring that lens to what this really means.”
Carlton champion and former Crow Eddie Betts spoke about the issue of racism in sport on the Fox Footy channel last night.
“I’m sick of it, I’m sick of fighting: It’s draining. I’ve been on this show pouring my heart out begging, hoping Australia would listen and it’s hard,” he said.
“I can’t do it, I can’t, it’s hard … You guys that are sitting at home on the couch, you guys are going to be the ones with the powerful voice here, you guys are going to be the ones to make change. Because I can’t keep doing it.”
Walker’s racial vilification of North Adelaide’s Young at a SANFL game last month was reported to Adelaide management by a club official.
The incident was then explained to the league, and Walker became the first AFL player to be suspended for racial vilification since Justin Sherman in 2011.
Taylor’s apology in a prepared media release video was criticised by Indigenous players, including former Adelaide Crow and ABC broadcaster Tony Armstrong.
“It’s always on Indigenous people, to always be taking the higher road and always having to extend the olive branch out and be the ones to help and to educate,” he said on ABC News Breakfast.
“Even there in the wording, we heard Taylor’s going to be the one leaning on Robbie.”
Hosch said she felt it was an unfair burden for the league’s Indigenous community to have to bear.
“I think it’s been building for a long, long time. That expression is occurring because of sustained attacks over a long period of time. And, as Eddie articulated, it takes you back into your history of those experiences,” she said.
“It’s not necessarily ‘my worst experience of racism as an adult that will take me back being a seven-year-old in the schoolyard’, it’s just the one that does.
“So it’s a lifelong continuum, and then there’s the sustained very public attacks that become increasingly vile in nature and so I think what we’re also seeing is this incredible strength and resilience to be able to talk about it, still, despite that.”
Hosch said she was dismayed but not surprised that such a high-profile player has been sanctioned.
“Because racism is so pervasive that it is about that deep internal work that we all have to do,” she said.
The AFL said it was pleased the club official who reported Walker’s slur felt safe enough to do so.
“It’s extraordinary that this person felt safe enough and was prepared to take the risk of doing it,” Hosch said.
“I don’t know for this person if it ever felt like a risk, but you would think that would be the case. It was a huge thing to do.”
She hoped it would be “long remembered” as an example of what to do when people in the game witness or hear racism.