Racism still an issue in AFL footy but it's time to move forward

Australian Rules Football has come a long way in the past 30 years.

The league has expanded, the game has grown and evolved while the players have become full-time and are now recognised as professional athletes.

But there is one element which seems to have gone nowhere: racist fans.

This week is Indigenous Round in the AFL and we will come together as an industry to pay homage and respect to those past and present.

The round is themed this way annually, but disappointingly, for the first time in a long time, the pall of racism is hanging over us in the lead-up.

In the past month, North’s Sudanese-born sensation Majak Daw has been racially vilified by opposition supporters.

While Maj didn’t hear what was said, others in the crowd have reported the disgraceful behaviour and thankfully those responsible have been ejected.

In my view, ejecting them isn’t enough. They should be named and shamed.

Kevin Sheedy gets a lot of credit for helping pave the way for Indigenous players in the AFL during his time at Essendon.

But the Kangaroos were actually the trailblazers.

In the 1980s, the then Roos’ recruiter and administrator Ron Joseph discovered Jim and Phil Krakouer at Perth club Claremont.

The brothers electrified footy fans with the way they played but there were always those small-minded and dim-witted members of the crowd who resented them and sprayed them with verbal abuse because of the colour of their skin.

Our chief of footy Donald McDonald remembers those days and can’t believe it’s still happening now.

“It’s appalling when you think about it,” he told me this week.

“You’d like to believe that we’re past that as a society and I think it’s really disappointing to know that there are some people out there who feel that type of behaviour is acceptable.”

McDonald said he was reported on eight occasions during his career and one particular incident was the result of him standing up for the Krakouers when they were targeted by opposition players.

“It was a part of the way things were in those days but as their teammates, we never accepted it. I was rubbed out after one game as a direct result of racism after some things were said. I jumped in for them, not that they needed much help because Jimmy and Phil could hold their own,” McDonald said.

“I remember as a young bloke coming to the club, our coach Barry Cable, who was indigenous, told us that if anything happened on the field with Jimmy and Phil physically or verbally, we had to be there for them. So I always had that in my head and would support them no matter what.”

While there have been a few occasions in the past few years of on-field racism, it has been all but completely stamped out.

Now the battle is being waged on the other side of the fence and McDonald says we have made some inroads but there a lot more work to be done.

Two years ago, McDonald was in the crowd when a man racially vilified Majak at the VFL in Port Melbourne.

“We moved pretty quickly to ensure this guy was thrown out and I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” McDonald said.

“It took me back to the old VFA/VFL days when blokes would drink full-strength beer on the terraces and hurl some pretty nasty stuff toward anyone with a different background. I’m sure if you ask Andrew Demetriou, he’d tell you he copped a fair spray for being Greek.”

Jim and Phil Krakouer are coming to our round nine game against Adelaide and they will speak to the playing group. 

Majak will have a fair bit in common with them and it’s so sad that it won’t only be because of what he’s capable of on the field, but also for what he’s experienced off it thanks to those still living in the past.

North Melbourne vice-captain Drew Petrie played his junior football with Ballarat Swans. He was drafted to the Kangaroos from North Ballarat Rebels in 2000.

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