A damning report identified a “toxic” culture at the Collingwood Australian Rules football club Monday, finding systemic racism permeated one of the country’s largest sporting organisations.
Collingwood commissioned the independent probe by Aboriginal academic Larissa Behrendt last year after former player Heritier Lumumba alleged he faced discrimination while at the club, including being nicknamed “chimp”.
Behrendt found there was a long history of racist incidents involving the Melbourne-based side which had not been addressed by its leadership.
“What is clear is that racism at the club has resulted in profound and enduring harm to First Nations and African players,” Behrendt wrote.
“The racism affected them, their communities, and set dangerous norms for the public.”
The report said the issue was more pronounced at Collingwood than other clubs in the Australian Football League (AFL), the country’s most popular spectator sport.
“While claims of racism have been made across the AFL, there is something distinct and egregious about Collingwood’s history,” it concluded.
Behrendt said Collingwood needed a club-wide cultural shift, including the introduction of policies to address racism and more support for those reporting the issue.
Possible remedies included “reparations, compensation, public apology, and commitments to reform”.
The report said Lumumba’s allegations warranted a separate inquiry but cited other well-publicised incidents involving Collingwood, including a clash that led to one of the most powerful images associated with racism in Australian sport.
It occurred when Indigenous St Kilda player Nicky Winmar responded to abuse from Collingwood supporters in 1993 by lifting his shirt while facing the crowd and pointing to his skin.
– ‘Pledge to do better’ –
Essendon’s Michael Long, another Aboriginal player, in 1995 complained about on-field racial abuse during a clash, also involving Collingwood.
Star Sydney Swans player Adam Goodes was called an “ape” by a young Collingwood fan in 2013 and his distressed response prompted racist chants for the rest of his career, prompting his early retirement.
At the time, Collingwood president Eddie McGuire exacerbated the offence when he suggested on radio that Goodes should be hired to promote the musical “King Kong”.
Jodie Sizer, an Indigenous woman who sits on the club’s integrity committee admitted: “There are instances when it’s hard being a blackfella and barracking for (support) Collingwood.”
But she said the club was ready to “meet the moment in time” and implement change.
McGuire, who has already announced plans to step down at the end of the 2021 season, appeared to question the report’s core finding, arguing issues at the club did not amount to institutional discrimination.
“It’s not systemic racism as such, we just didn’t have the processes in place to do the job we’d like to have done,” he told reporters.
Under persistent questioning, he acknowledged past failings.
“If we’ve got things wrong we’re sorry,” he said.
“We’ve always sought to do our best. Looking back we now know it wasn’t always good enough. We acknowledge that and we pledge to do better.”