Racial Vilification: A Threat To Multicultural and International Development

The recent allegation of racial vilification aimed at Richmond footballer Bachar Houli is a worrying sign. Whilst the journalist involved has apologised and does not recall having labelled Houli as a “terrorist”, the mere fact that there might be a perceived vilifying link is disturbing on so many levels. Whilst the ramifications go all the way to the rights of all people to a life without threats, bullying, stereotyping and fear, there is also a lesser argument that football codes, in this case Australian Rules football, will be damaged as a brand by the actions of a small minority.This incident comes just over a week after Western Bulldogs player, Lin Jong, was the target of racial slurs. His lineage is both East Timorese and Taiwanese. Richmond’s Chief Executive, Brendon Gale, stated to the AFL’s website that, “Lin Jong is a fine young player and we should be celebrating the diversity he brings to our game.”

Likewise, Bachar Houli’s contribution to the game in terms of the development of multicultural markets for our game should be applauded and widely recognised. Racial slurs, whether in jest, without thought or deliberately targeted have absolutely no place in our game, or any sport, and all that can be done needs to be so stamp out racial slurs. But that is easier said than done. Racism has been at the centre of a push within the indigenous Australians to outlaw vilification from the days when both Nicky Winmar and Michael Long made their stands. At least, that is the high profile brought to light by these two players and their own galling incidents, but a level of slurring has been known, if not well documented, from the first days of indigenous and multicultural players.

I only need to call on my own memories of the abuse I heard directed at Jimmy Krakouer at VFL Park, Phil Krakouer at Arden Street and Maurice Rioli on one occasion at the MCG to know that an idiot few have always been on hand to tear down the wonderful steps forward made by most of the rest of the footballing public – players and fans alike.

This deplorable habit continues today with high profile vilification of players such as Adam Goodes, Lance Franklin, Neville Jetta and more.

As more indigenous players took to the game, it seemed that racial abuse grew exponentially. In an article written in The Age newspaper in 2013, matthew Klugman and gary Osmond wote that “The image of Winmar pointing with pride to his dark skin continues to be shown over and over again, turning up in newspapers, posters, and street art. Its power lies not only in the effect it had, but in its compelling call for change that is yet to come. The horrid shouts of a few deluded fans will be quickly dealt with. But damaging assumptions of inferiority remain.”

That statement can now also be seen creeping into the era of the players from a wider range of international backgrounds. It seems that it is the unalienable right of some (thankfully few) football followers – I dare not call them supporters – to make racial comments and slurs and somehow claim it to be “the Australian way”.

Well, if the ambassadors of the game at any level (players, administrators, volunteers) are to succeed in selling Australian football to new and growing multicultural and international markets then all vilification has to be removed. How can a mother and father from a Muslim family safely consider our game as an option for their child when a player like Bachar Houli – a role model to all Muslim youth – can be vilified? The same can be said for burgeoning Asian markets when players like Lin Jong are subject to taunts and abuse.

There is no magic wand to be waved. If there was it would have been used to banish bullying forever and now be aimed at vilification. Laws that have been written can protect to a degree, but they cannot stop those who are not caught. The answer seems to lie in a concerted effort by all who value the people of all nations, beliefs and backgrounds to work and work and work relentlessly to gradually reduce the problem. There may one day be a world with less racism and greater tolerance than we have now. No matter how Utopian that might be, it must be the direction we try to head.

The teams I coach up here in Cairns are 90% indigenous, with growing markets from Africa and the South Pacific. I still hear the racial taunts directed at my own team, much less others. Surely that cannot be seen as supporting your own team. It is racism – blatant, intolerant racism. And do the vilifiers think that their taunts cannot be heard? Absolutely not!

If we hope to have any positive impact at local levels of the game we must see the change accepted at the highest levels. I refer here to the followers in the crowds who need to change.

If they don’t then all attempts to continue to foster Australian Rules football as the safest and most enjoyable sport for kids to play will forever be at risk.

In my own role as a Multicultural Community Ambassador I am building as many bridges as I possibly can through schools, communities and clubs, but my efforts will be dented by the continued idiocy of those who harbor hate or ignorance – or both.

Racial vilification – at all levels and in all situations – has to stop. I will try to do my own microscopic bit. I hope others will continue to do so also.

It would be the greatest win in football history.

About Wesley Hull

Passionate lover of Australian Rules football. Have played and coached the game and now spend my time writing about the game I love and introducing young people to the game through school coaching. Will try and give back to the game what it has given me for more that 40 years.

Comments

  1. sean gorman says

    Go Weso!!

  2. Skip of Skipton says

    Calling Houli a terrorist is obviously vilification (religious or cultural etc), but it is not ‘racial’ vilification. Islam is not a ‘race’, is it?

  3. Skip, you are quite right. Islam is a religion as opposed to a race. But there are many races across the Middle East with each inextricably linked to religions. Just like cultures is a different thing again to race and religion, yet still linked and intertwined.

  4. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Terrific piece Wesley. We really need to evolve as a society on these issues. Footy can help lead the way, hopefully. Cheers.

  5. sean gorman says

    Wes have a nibble on this. It is something i prepared earlier.

    http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17430437.2014.976007?journalCode=fcss20

  6. Spot on Wes. I cringe recalling the comments which were the ‘norm’ last century. I’m not sure who made the ignorant statement re Bachar Houli, but it mirrors the term used by Dean Jones on Indian TV when he described the South African batsmen Hashim Amla. How can you legislate against ignorance ?

    Glen!

  7. Patrick Skene says

    Well written Wesley.
    Its impossible to overestimate the importance of footy eradicating racism if it wants to be adopted by new communities.
    Good luck!

  8. Pottering says

    Unfortunately Wesley I think in 50 years time the same article will be written because there’ll always be some clown who says such things. Clearly things are moving in the right direction because supporters are dobbing these people in and the guilty parties are invariably contrite and highly unlikely to re offend, even if only to avoid embarrassment. Pretty much nothing in this world can be eradicated, just minimised as much as possible.

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