“This is a historic and proud day for the Collingwood Football Club.”
So said Eddie McGuire mere hours after a report was published which stated there was systemic racism at the club.
Just to make sure no one misheard him, McGuire mentioned how proud he was another three or four times during what can only be described as a complete and utter catastrophe of a press conference.
It would have been a laughable display from the Collingwood president if the issue at hand wasn’t so serious: one of the biggest AFL clubs, one of the biggest sporting teams in Australia, found to be woefully inept in dealing with racism in their organisation.
If McGuire and his club thought they could put on an overly positive face and spin their way out of the aftermath of the report, they were wrong. And how.
In fact, the only real achievement of Monday’s hour-long press conference was to comprehensively reinforce the criticisms of the club which the report detailed.
One of the damning observations of the Do Better Report – which is worth reading in full – is that the club reacted less effectively to internal complaints of racism than they did to media reports on the topic, and that their responses were often interpreted as being defensive.
Collingwood is perceived as being defensive, doubling down and denying allegations instead of taking an active and proactive approach internally. This has also meant that Collingwood’s response has often been perceived as one where claims of racism are dealt with in terms of damage control and protecting the brand, rather than seeking to address issues and make change…
A further consequence of this defensive stance is that there is no room for reflection.
That perception will not have been changed one iota by McGuire’s trainwreck. For example, when it was pointed out that this systemic racism happened under his watch as club president, his response was defensive in the extreme.
“What’s happened on my watch is this: we’ve built a fantastic club; we have commissioned this report; we have built all sorts of mechanisms to get involved in the community, from looking after the homeless to many other aspects of life that stand absolutely head and shoulders above most organisations, of which we’re very proud.”
Oh, and according to McGuire there wasn’t any systemic racism going on, even though he had a report in front of him which stated there was “systemic racism within the Collingwood Football club”.
Another common theme in the report was the gap between what Collingwood does and what they say.
Today, Collingwood claims to be guided by four formal values…
However, there is a gap — a very big one — between what Collingwood Football Club says it stands for and what it does.
This, again, was in stark display on Monday, when the report was portrayed as an overwhelmingly positive development by McGuire and three other Magpies administrators – CEO Mark Anderson and integrity committee members Peter Murphy and Jodie Sizer – and how it was almost a case of proactivity.
“We wanted to seize the moment, look at world affairs over the last 12 months, and put ourselves ahead of it,” was how McGuire put it.
The truth is the report was not something the club commissioned wholly of their own impetus. In its own words, it was “sparked by the public criticisms and complaints made by ex-Collingwood player, Heritier Lumumba, about his experiences and treatment when playing for the club”.
It was also not proactively released by Collingwood, and McGuire and co. only spoke publicly about it on Monday because of the media reports published earlier in the day. The complete report had been delivered to the club last December.
The comparisons between report and press conference hardly ceased, only adding further weight to the former’s validity.
McGuire, of course, has already announced he’s stepping down as Collingwood president at the end of the coming season, a decision which was announced in December. After Monday, he should be gone by the end of the week.
The issue isn’t that McGuire gave a gaffe-laden, tone-deaf, delusional press conference which will be used as a gold-standard example of how not to do PR and damage control for years to come.
The issue is that performance, such as it was, indicates he is entirely ill-equipped to lead Collingwood as the club moves to adopt the recommendations of the report.
“We’re on the good side of this,” he said.
If your club is found to have systemic racism within it, you’re not “on the good side” just because you commissioned a report into it. That McGuire can’t understand that means he’d be better off leaving Collingwood now.