Racism in sport – it’s there in black and white


  • Saturday, 08 June 2013 08:32
  • Written by 

I have been trying to understand what would motivate a 13 year old girl to call an indigenous man “ape”.

What thought process had to go through her brain for the word ape to be her word of choice?

And it was a choice. It was a choice influenced by upbringing, adult influence and lack of education.

During the opening match of the AFL Indigenous Round, no less.

In the following days the media was awash with both people rightfully supporting the stand taken by Adam Goodes and those who dismissed the story as being political correctness gone mad, clearly unable to make the obvious connection that being called “ape” is a racial slur.

It only takes a small amount of exposure to those on the wrong side of this argument – the “I’m not racist, but…….” elements in society – to realise their ignorance is what holds back the eradication of racism.

What everyone can agree on is that Eddie McGuire is an experienced broadcaster. He is Eddie Everywhere. He has an Honorary Doctorate of Communication from RMIT and promotes indigenous football through his chairmanship of the Michael Long Learning and Leadership Centre.

Despite his media profile and experience in the public domain, McGuire thought his audience would appreciate an obviously racist joke about Adam Goodes. This says a lot about the level on which he thinks his audience operates.

His back-pedalling only made the situation worse. When called to account, he issued a non-apology from the Alan Jones Apology Instruction Manual and blamed a slip of the tongue or fatigue or some other weak excuse.

What Eddie McGuire did was confuse larrikinism and racism.

He though his blokey charm would let him get away with making a joke which he must at the time have thought was perfectly acceptable. Those Aussie larrikins down at the footy ground would be splitting their sides laughing, surely.

Again, sections of the public came out in defence of free speech and stuck up for Eddie and his “slip of the tongue”, even attacking Goodes for not being able to handle a joke.

What these ignorant sections of the community don’t get is that these types of remarks are racist and hurtful. Sport gives the people who peddle these remarks an outlet for their racism, whether it’s on the field, in the stands or behind the microphone.

Take the incident several weeks ago of ABC Radio sports commentator David Morrow – he of 30 years’ broadcasting experience – thinking his microphone was off and making a racist joke at the expense of indigenous inhabitants of Darwin.

Again the apologies were issued. But doesn’t this show the true character of the person, revealing deeper prejudices when at their most comfortable?

Morrow was temporarily suspended and will be back at work before too long.

Three years ago, the NRL was deep in a scandal involving league ‘legend’ Andrew Johns racially vilifying players during State of Origin training. Again apologies were issued; he kept his jobs with Channel Nine and News Limited and went on to be a star witness in the Waterhouse/Singleton imbroglio.

More recently, the sacking of ARL Indigenous Council chairman Percy Knight during their All Stars Week lead him to remark “There is rampant racism within the NRL’s administration and it is very toxic.”

Former player Larry Corowa took the NRL to task over its lack of consultation with the Indigenous Council, even over the All Stars Game. He suggested the ARL Indigenous Council was simply used as a marketing tool (read PR gimmick).

FIFA, the world governing body of football, has recently voted for tough new powers to relegate or expel teams for serious offences of racism. This follows several recent incidents of racial slurs between players and between spectators and players.

Jeffrey Webb, head of FIFA’s anti-racism task force is quoted as saying “We’ve got to take action so that when we look to the next 20 or 50 years this will be the defining time that we took action against racism and discrimination.”

This will hopefully be more than window dressing and lead to meaningful progress.

The Federal Government put a different spin on racism in sport this week when Immigration Minister Brendon O’Connor introduced a bill in to parliament to amend the Citizen Act to allow a Pakistani born failed refugee to be promptly issued an Australian passport – because he is a talented cricket player.

Too bad if you are a doctor or surgeon, you can stay in the ‘queue’. Sports star? Step this way.

Perhaps we could fast track more teachers through immigration. Then they could teach those uneducated boors what it feels like to be thought of as less than human because of the colour of your skin.