• File image of Adam Goodes taking part in a training session at the Sydney Cricket Ground, September, 2015. (AAP)
Comment: NITV News WA correspondent Craig Quatermaine reflects on racism in AFL and questions how far have we really come in tackling the issue in sport.
30 May 2017 - 11:42 AM  UPDATED 30 May 2017 - 3:58 PM

The Sir Doug Nicholls round or Indigenous round has just concluded in the AFL without any race related controversy for a change, at least in the AFL. But on Sunday afternoon as the country’s biggest league concluded it’s exhibition of inclusiveness a young woman playing in the West Australian Women’s Football League was called “A Monkey“ and a “Smelly Black dog”. This particular 19-year-old woman has been a leading goal kicker multiple times, a state representative and no stranger to racism.

In her words she said: “It made me feel really hurt knowing someone like that thinks they have the right to talk to a black person the way she did, it hurt me, I actually had a little cry”.

The West Australian Women’s Football League and WA Football Commission have responded to the official complaints from the Clubs involved.

There is barely six months that pass before another race related controversy at the top level of Australian Football.

Carolyn Hills from the WAWFL said: “It is really disappointing to receive a complaint like this in our competition and I want to emphasise it is something we won’t stand for.” 

WAFC CEO Gavin Taylor said: “We don’t want anyone who thinks this behaviour is acceptable to be involved with football in any capacity.” 

Now that an official complaint has been made the next step is for the clubs and Commission to facilitate a meeting between the parties involved.

Even in the women’s game there is still the inherited attitude that you don’t complain or speak up, thankfully this young lady had had enough.

The club the offending player is from has a proud history littered with premierships and her teammates reportedly accosted her straight away, telling her to stop. But what undoes that noble gesture is the knowledge this player hasn’t only done it before; but is infamous even notorious, for this kind of language. The questions remains; where does the club’s responsibility end? Especially when even at the professional levels this sort of behaviour continues.

“I've just had enough I don't like racism, it's disgusting and it's about time people show some respect.”

As Adam Goodes proved, your credentials don’t protect you from racial slurs on the footy field, one of the greatest to ever play the game, possibly the greatest Indigenous player ever, made a stand and his career was unfortunately eclipsed by the fall out.  However the AFL Indigenous round of 2017 was a marvel; Buddy Franklin and Shaun Burgoyne rocked the number 67 and the SCG, paying tribute to the 1967 referendum. Even Lewis Jetta celebrated with a traditional dance in front of the very crowd that booed Adam Goodes into retirement, in a turnaround from his defiant war cry to those same fans in 2015. It’s moments like this that can lead you to believe we’ve evolved if you lose yourself in the majesty and theatre of dream time at the G, which in itself is a grand gesture when delivered with a great game. Yet only a few rounds ago Port Adelaide were dealing with the latest racist tirade aimed at Crows superstar Eddie Betts, less than one year on from a Port supporter throwing a Banana at Betts and calling him an ape.  

Football for Aboriginal people across the country is the first place many felt equal and safe. Even if only for a moment.

50 years on from the referendum, a new push for a treaty was announced in Uluru in what has been called a momentous decision by delegates from all across the country. Yet while researching for this article there is barely six months that pass before another race related controversy at the top level of Australian Football. The fact there is even a debate about whether a Nicky Winmar statue of his iconic pose with shirt lifted should be placed outside the MCG when the real question is “Why isn’t it there already?” highlights the problem.

So is it unreasonable to expect amateur level footballers to be held to a higher standard than the AFL can’t reach? The young woman who was vilified during the AFL Indigenous round has already come back from a knee reconstruction and struggles to just to get to training on a weekly basis and for two hours every weekend the hardships are forgotten, because football for Aboriginal people across the country is the first place many felt equal and safe. Even if only for a moment.

I’ve coached women’s football for the last three season’s at the very club where the young Aboriginal woman plays, with the launch and huge success of the AFLW I picked a good time to step away and watch the women’s game take off but every now and then I’ll sneak down and catch a game. The odds of me being present when this incident occurred were pretty huge or so I thought, but when you compile the incidents over that three years I coached, the 20 years I played or the 100 odd years Aboriginal people were playing in the same league as Non Indigenous people, when you do the maths using that scale; sadly the odds aren’t that long. This is the second time this young footballer has had something like this has happened to her; it’s a tough sport you’re not meant to show weakness or that your opponent got to you. it’s that veil that protects those who think that in 2017 they can still get away with racism because: “It’s part of the game”. When I asked if this was gong to affect her going into next week a defiant answer from a young footballer who echoed those who have taken a stand before saying; “I've just had enough I don't like racism, it's disgusting and it's about time people show some respect.”

That’s why as horrible as it was to watch this talented young woman go through the same garbage as many of us have before, watching her decide she wasn’t going to cop it filled me with hope that even if things are only improving sightly over a long period of time, if at all? It makes me feel like every millimetre gained counts, just like in footy.