Betts noted that a lack of support mechanisms within his football club made it difficult to speak out, as did the fear of being vilified, like Adam Goodes had been, when he spoke out against racism several years before.1
Many Australians are familiar with the story of how Goodes was racially vilified while playing for the Sydney Swans.2 In 2019, the AFL issued him an apology for failing to address the experiences of racism that preceded his 2015 departure from the game.3 During this period, Goodes was targeted on and off the field, regardless of his performance. Attempts to call this out as racism were routinely denied by the AFL, by media, and by many in the sporting community.
It’s well documented that players from First Nations and culturally and linguistically diverse communities are subjected to racial slurs and booing from the crowds.4
At a junior level, a review of over 100 interviews conducted with Australian players, coaches, club leaders and parents concluded that on-field racism was a ‘common everyday occurrence’.5 The interviews further found that many instances of racism went unreported, that those who spoke out against it experienced backlash, and that official grievance processes were ineffective and likely to worsen the trauma of children who had been vilified.6
Structural racism within sporting organisations can prevent them from addressing incidents of interpersonal racism when they occur. In an independent review of Collingwood Football Club, the 2020 Do Better Report noted that ‘[c]hange needs to be driven from the top if it is to address racism and set the tone for the culture within the club.’7
Sport can bring out the best in our communities, and can be a place where values of equality, fairness and participation are realised. But in a space where so many Australians find a sense of belonging, community and comradery, racism remains an ongoing issue. It continues to separate players from the games they love, and undermines their ability to thrive. We need a coordinated approach to addressing racism in sports that considers racism on and off the field, interrogates institutional bias and supports all players to feel safe and supported.
By reflecting on the impact of racism, and taking a stand against it, we can build a fair and equal society – for all.
It stops with me.
1 Claire Siracusa, ‘I was drowning inside': Betts feared same fate as Goodes if he called out racial abuse earlier’, The Age (online, 7 April 2022) <https://www.theage.com.au/sport/afl/i-was-drowning-inside-betts-feared-same-fate-as-goodes-if-he-called-out-racial-abuse-earlier-20220406-p5abgj.html>.
2 Andrew Wu, ’From gutted to “glad”: Why Goodes now sees MCG racial slur as positive’, The Age (online, 13 September 2021) <https://www.theage.com.au/sport/afl/from-gutted-to-glad-why-goodes-now-sees-mcg-racial-slur-as-a-positive-20210911-p58qtb.html>.
3 ‘AFL apologises unreservedly for failures over racism faced by Adam Goodes’, ABC News (online, 7 June 2019) <https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-06-07/afl-apologises-unreservedly-for-failures-over-adam-goodes-racism/11191880>.
4 Angeline Ferdinand, Yin Paradies and Margaret Kelaher, Mental Health Impacts of Racial Discrimination in Victorian Aboriginal Communities: The Localities Embracing and Accepting Diversity (LEAD) Experiences of Racism Survey (Report, 2013) <https://www.lowitja.org.au/content/Document/Lowitja-Publishing/LEAD-Report-WEB.pdf>; Karen Farquharson et al, ‘Managing Racism on the Field in Australian Junior Sport’ in Philomena Essed et al (eds), Relating Worlds of Racism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019) 165.
5 Karen Farquharson et al, ‘Managing Racism on the Field in Australian Junior Sport’ in Philomena Essed et al (eds), Relating Worlds of Racism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019) 165.
6 Karen Farquharson et al, ‘Managing Racism on the Field in Australian Junior Sport’ in Philomena Essed et al (eds), Relating Worlds of Racism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019) 165.
7 Larissa Behrendt and Lindon Coombes, Do Better — Independent review into Collingwood Football Club’s responses to Incidents of Racism and Cultural Safety in the Workplace (Report, 2021) 7 <https://resources.afl.com.au/afl/document/2021/02/01/0bd7a62e-7508-4a7e-9cb0-37c375507415/Do_Better.pdf>.