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Sporting organisations must change to better battle racism

Heritier Lumumba. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
16th February, 2021
16

Eddie McGuire stepping down last week in response to the damning Do Better report has yet again emphasised the intrinsic link between sport and society.

Sport has affected and driven social change throughout history, even if certain quarters would prefer athletes and organisations kept quiet.

The brave stance which former Collingwood player Heritier Lumumba undertook by speaking out against his the Pies in regards to the racist nicknames he was subjected to as a player sparked the report.

Lumumba has since said that before real change is made, Collingwood must take responsibility as a club for its inaction regarding claims of racism.

McGuire’s 23 years as president of Collingwood brought success on and off the field, as he helped build the Pies into the largest sporting organisation in Australia, with over 80,000 members.

This though has now been overshadowed by the report, which highlighted the concerning and damaging environment that sat behind the premiership and financial power.

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McGuire’s now infamous 2013 comment, when he suggested Adam Goodes be used to promote musical King Kong, came just a week after Goodes had been racially abused by a 13-year-old Collingwood supporter.

It hinted at a club with deep-rooted issues.

Adam Goodes looks on

Adam Goodes (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

McGuire did attempt to increase the Pies’ relationship with Australia’s First Nations people, including the implementation of the Barrawarn Program, which looks to empower Indigenous Australians through employment and educational opportunities, as well as Jodie Sizer becoming the first Indigenous woman to sit a Victorian club’s board.

However, veteran journalist Barrie Cassidy recently wrote, “I am personally sick of the awful history that the club has built for itself around racism, going all the way back to booing the Indigenous greats such as Syd Jackson, Michael Long, Robert Muir and most famously Nicky Winmar.”

The Winmar incident, wherein photographer Wayne Ludbey captured the now famous image of the Saints champion raising his guernsey and pointing to his black physique in front of the Collingwood Social Club, should have proved a catalyst for change.

This change did not occur.

Sport is a microcosm of the broader community, displaying the best and worst of society, and wielding the power to make change but also stop change in its tracks.

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Sporting organisations have a responsibility to uphold and reflect societal values of equality, respect and fair play. McGuire let these values slip under his guidance and he now must accept and reflect on the shortcomings of his leadership.

Racism is an issue within all walks of life and sport has been found wanting too often when it has come to stopping racism, as was highlighted in the Do Better report.

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Francis Awaritefe, a former star of the National Soccer League who himself experienced on-field racial abuse, still believes there is major resistance and self-denial about the scale of racism in Australia and that this must change before any major shifts can be made.

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The stepping down of McGuire is a move in the right direction but much more must be done.

Sporting organisations and powerbrokers must be held accountable for the culture and values they create – both on and off the field.

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