• Former Collingwood footballer Heritier Lumumba. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
"People have to look at themselves in the mirror in light of this new awareness and say, which side of history will I stand on?” says Heritier Lumumba.
Rachael Hocking, Keira Jenkins

2 Feb 2021 - 12:44 PM  UPDATED 2 Feb 2021 - 2:26 PM

Heritier Lumumba has called out the Collingwood Football Club's leadership for failing to engage meaningfully with a report which slammed the club for “profound and enduring harm to First Nations and African players".

Mr Lumumba said it was an example of a deeper problem Australia has with truth-telling.

“I can't help but just see that the Collingwood Football Club is really a microcosm of the greater Australian narrative, which is the fact that there's an unpreparedness or inability or lack of desire to reconcile with its checkered, brutal past and that it has inflicted severe pain on individuals and communities and families," he told NITV News on Tuesday.

‘Standing on the right side of history’

Mr Lumumba has repeatedly called out the Collingwood Football Club for dismissing his complaints of racial abuse and discrimination experienced when he was a player at the club between 2005 and 2014.

That abuse has been corroborated by accounts from Mr Lumumba’s former teammates, including Chris Dawes, Andrew Krakouer and Brent Macaffer.

Mr Lumumba chose not to be involved with the review, which was produced by Eualaya and Kamilaroi woman, Distinguished Professor Larissa Behrendt.

The authors said they were sympathetic to Mr Lumumba's decision and suggested a separate investigation was needed into his experiences.

Collingwood Club President Eddie McGuire - speaking at the press-conference on Monday in the wake of the leaked 'Do Better report' - dismissed findings of ‘systemic racism’ and instead insisted the Club was "on the good side".

The unofficial release of the damning report has also brought new attention to a segment aired on Channel Ten’s The Project in 2017, which undermined Mr Lumumba’s story.

Mr Lumumba said there’s been a shift in how the media has covered his story in the wake of the global Black Lives Matter movement.

“I haven't tuned into everything that's being written but I am aware that the sentiment is well and truly shifted. I think we're now, in 2021, 12 months in almost to a global movement for Black lives,” he said.

“With the dehumanization of Black lives being at the forefront of people's minds, I think it has paved the way for a new consciousness and new self-awareness into how others are complicit in silencing Black voices and how others are complicit in the lateral violence that institutionalized racism has on all individuals throughout society.

“I think that's why you're seeing a bit of a shift and I also think people have to look at themselves in the mirror in light of this new awareness and say, which side of history will I stand on?” 

‘[McGuire] can't show the necessary humility’

“And you know, the fact is it's never too late to stand on the wrong side of history, this is the point that the Collingwood football club doesn't understand and Eddie McGuire clearly doesn't understand - is that in order to stand on the right side of history, you have to acknowledge when you weren't standing on the right side of history, and that takes a level of humility.”

Mr Lumumba said there was a chasm in the image Eddie McGuire projected of himself and the Club, and how he behaved.

“The two can't coexist. He can't show the necessary humility to admit that you know what, ‘we were horrible at this, we have a terrible past that we need to address, and we're going to do so’” he said.

‘There must be higher standards’

Among the 'Do Better' report's 18 recommendations was a push for stronger accountability and consequences when racism occurs.

These included the suggestion that the club aim for a higher standard of support for its players as outlined in international human rights documents, instead of Australia's "general anti-discrimination legislation". 

Collingwood Football Club board member and Gunditjmara, Djab Wurrung woman Jodie Sizer said the report and its recommendations send a "clear message" about past failings and the direction the club needs to go.

“I accept all of the findings of the report and I am deeply sorry for any harm that has been caused by inadequacy of our organisation’s ability to respond," she said.

But Ms Sizer said now is the time to "look forward" and "take positive action".

“I was proud that the club has led with courage to do this work and to be at this point to have such a strong evidence base to inform our action and get to the doing and the moving forward," she said.

Mr Lumumba didn’t rule out the need for the CFC leadership to step down.

“Unfortunately I don't really see how they go forward… other than there being some form of radical change,” he told NITV News.

“Now, does that mean that [McGuire] has to step down? Not necessarily, but if that's what it takes for the Collingwood Football Club to outwardly project a message that the community can gain a sense of - can feel - remorse, then I think that whatever has to happen has to happen.”

Echoing the report’s recommendations, Mr Lumumba said across the AFL there needed to be stronger consequences when racism occurs, and that it took people power to name it and hold it to account.

“The AFL has been horrendous when it comes to dealing with all of the issues that have come to the surface in the last 10 years for example and before that,” he said.

“I think there must be higher standards for when leaders are not living up to the values that they espouse to uphold.”

"It's so much more than just myself, it's so much more than the Collingwood Football Club."

"It's actually everyone on the continent who could benefit from an institution as powerful, an industry as powerful as the AFL, and the Collingwood Football Club being held to a higher standard."

Collingwood's 'toxic culture' blasted in wake of damning report
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