It’s been over two weeks since I was racially vilified while playing a VAFA football game. My nose wasn’t bleeding and I didn’t have a broken bone, and the assailant quickly fled as if nothing had happened.
However, I was shocked and deeply hurt by what was said, which I do not want to repeat here, but it immediately impacted me negatively in a very significant way, and I am now wondering if I want to continue practicing this sport.
It was during the second quarter of a semi-final match when an opposing player racially slurred me by referring to the color of my skin after I tackled them.
Surely, after all the recent controversy surrounding Native AFL footballers Adam Goodes and Eddie Betts, this player should have known better? Or maybe they did know better, and it was said that he deliberately hurt and vilified me?
Regardless of their intentions, at that moment a part of me died.
Read more: Collingwood Football Club: What happened to the ‘Do Better’ report on systemic racism?
I can’t do anything about the color of my skin. I can’t wipe off my color, and I don’t want to either; I am who I am. But at that moment, I felt that I shouldn’t play on the pitch. I wondered if that was how everyone saw me.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that I have been the victim of racism; however, this was the first time I called him when this happened. As an advocate for women’s leadership and equality in sport, an area I research, I couldn’t sit still.
I immediately reported the incident to the then referee, who told me he would report the infraction to VAFA at the end of the game.
However, little has happened since without any consequences being imposed on the perpetrator, and the following week the player in question went on to play for his club in a playoff game.
I have been told that the opposition club collaborates and cooperates. But I received no apologies from the player or his club, and we now face the same team in the grand final this weekend.
My stomach hurts knowing that I will most likely see this player again and share a pitch with him.
What worries me is that it looks like the player and his club think this is normal, just sledding, and no fouls have been committed.
Read more: How AFL First Nations players worked to fight racial vilification on and off the pitch
Had I been physically hit, the player would likely have been flagged immediately and would have had to appear in court later to determine a penalty – which most certainly would have happened before the next scheduled round.
What I mean is that the league seems to be moving at a snail’s pace, seeming to work harder to avoid formal acknowledgment of abuse than to build urgency and penalize the act appropriately.
Despite having defamation and discrimination policies in place, I feel like I’m the driving force taking action and educating people about racism, which is both emotionally and physically draining.
I was offered options for mediation and conciliation. This implies that there was a disagreement here, a point of debate. There is no disagreement here.
For me, that sweeps the complaint even further under the rug. Research shows that these processes are ineffective in successfully managing discrimination.
After requesting a match report, I was told that the league could not access it. Still, match reports and infractions for men’s matches can usually be found on the VAFA website.
I have since been informed that the referee did not report the incident on the grounds that he had not heard the racist comment himself.
I also coach football (soccer). In football, the referee has the power to send someone off the field through the red card system. There is nothing like it at the level I play. If a player commits a fault, he is signaled by the referee, but he continues to play.
In my case, the referee could have stopped the game to clarify what had happened, but the game continued, even though I addressed the referee as soon as it happened.
The league’s code of conduct says:
“Do not engage in conduct that can reasonably be considered to incite hatred, contempt, mockery or discrimination against any person or group of people because of their age, race, religion, sex, color, sexual preference, orientation or identity or special ability or disability”.
However, my experience suggests that there is really no penalty or punishment if this happens. And the process of prosecuting such an offense puts the full responsibility of mediating and conciliating on the victim, and even educating them along the way.
Referees, coaches and club officials need to be better informed when these situations arise, so they can be able to act quickly with confidence, empathy and respect.
How can Australian rules football allocate funds to effectively eliminate racism if it is not officially reported at the grassroots level or sanctions are not applied?
If they go through mediation and conciliation, is the problem resolved?
Ironically, it is a reportable offense under AFL rules to wear boots, jewelry or equipment outside of the rules, but blatant acts of racism are not defined in the Laws of the Game, beyond its code of conduct.
This weekend I have to play against this player and the opposition. I feel like I’m left with the only burden of fighting racism and systemic injustices by having to take this case in my own hands, because the process and those responsible let me down.
I have teammates who were also deeply affected by this, in that they wondered if they wanted to go to the grand final with this player and ultimately if they wanted to continue playing in a league that allows essentially racism. . This problem is bigger than me – it affects everyone.
This is probably my last game of Aussie Rules football, a game that brought me so much joy.
I will continue to draw on my lived experience, research and understanding to help evolve policies and procedures at the community level, and lobby for cases such as the racism I experienced to be considered as reportable offenses with appropriate consequences for offenders. I have to, if we want to take racism seriously in our society.