The second of my posts to celebrate NAIDOC week. The first one is here.
To begin with, you need to understand the place of Aussie Rules in Victorian, and Australian culture. Some research revealed that it has one of the highest ave sports game attendances in the world at 38,000 in AFL match. By comparison the NFL gets 68,000. But on a per head of population basis, 200 in every million Americans goes to a game. In Australia, 1700 in a million do. Footy rules.
There has long been racism in footy amongst both players and supporters. At a game between against Collingwood in 1993, St Kilda player Nicky Winmar - a Noongar man from Western Australia - copped an ongoing tirade of racial abuse including being spat at by the Magpie supporters. At the end of the game he stood in front of the crowd, raised his jumper, pointing to his black skin with pride.
It was the first time any player had confronted racism publicly, and it was a defining moment. 18 months later, Aboriginal player Michael Long
lodged a complaint against another player for on field racism. This lead directly to the sport developing a "Racial and religious vilification' code. This was later expanded to prohibit any use of insults/abuse based on disability, disease and sexual orientation or preference. (not that there are any openly gay players - yet) The AFL also now work with
indigenous communities ranging from using support as health promotion in remote communities to employment. They have made a commitment to the process of reconciliation
. It's pretty amazing now to hear at the Grand Final, just before the National Anthem, an address being made acknowledging Indigenous Australians as the Traditional Custodians of the land and paying respects to them and their ancestors.
All this not only better supports indigenous players, but also offers a different model to other players and supporters. Footy is by no means a utopia of respect and dignity for all, but its come a long way.