Home » Integrity boss tells Australian sports to stop downplaying racism

Integrity boss tells Australian sports to stop downplaying racism

Australian sport leaders must stop downplaying racism amid a fresh wave of vilification claims, the nation’s sport integrity chief says.

Sport Integrity Australia (SIA) chief executive David Sharpe says athletes guilty of racism should face the same lengthy penalties given to fans in similar situations.

Sharpe is particularly critical of the downplaying of racism by influential people in Australian sport.
“Attitudes won’t change until the narrative changes,” Sharpe said on Sunday.
“Sport and sponsors’ brands are being aligned with poor behaviours, yet these brands have the power to drive a cultural shift to eradicate these poor behaviours.”
Sharpe’s comments come after a week when the AFL joined the NRL and Football Australia in being linked to racism claims.

The AFL is facing a new class action alleging historic racism of North Melbourne’s Indigenous Krakouer brothers, Jim and Phil, in the 1980s.

North Melbourne legends Jim (left) and Phil Krakouer claim the AFL was negligent in handling of racism in the sport. Source: AAP / Hamish Blair

The class action lodged in the Victorian Supreme Court last Tuesday alleges the Krakouers were vilified by identities including former Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy, who has denied the allegations.

When documents for the class action were first lodged last year, Phil Krakouer told the ABC the AFL was aware of the racist treatment of players but failed to act.

“For decades, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and people of colour have been racially abused while playing AFL, and we feel the AFL sat back and watched it all go by,” he said.

The AFL has vowed to fight the class action, saying it disagrees with claims the VFL/AFL has been conducted negligently.
The class action is open to more than 1000 former VFL/AFL players who are Indigenous or persons of colour and their families, and has been submitted by Margalit Injury Lawyers, the firm behind a separate concussion class action against the AFL.

The AFL action came in the same week Sydney Roosters forward Spencer Leniu apologised to Brisbane Broncos five-eighth Ezra Mam for making a racist remark during last Sunday’s NRL match in Las Vegas.

Leniu pleaded guilty to a contrary conduct charge at the NRL judiciary on Monday.
Sharpe, while not directly addressing specific cases, said Australia’s sports leaders needed to call out any commentary attempting to normalise or justify racist behaviours.
“It is 2024, not 1924, and there must be zero tolerance when it comes to racism in sport,” he said.
“Any inappropriate comments, whatever they are in nature, are not just a bit of ‘banter’ or ‘just fun and games on the field’.
“There are no excuses for slurs that could be interpreted as racist in nature. If the comments cause hurt, then intent is irrelevant.

“If the comments offend an individual, they also offend their families, their countries, their culture.

“We see strong messages sent to fans and crowds found guilty of racist slurs with lengthy penalties. These same sanctions need to apply to athletes.
“Australian sports leaders and sponsors must send a message to the world in the lead-up to the 2032 Brisbane Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“The world is watching. Eradicating racism in sport is the legacy we could be proud of.”

However, former high-profile NRL players, Brad Fittler and Paul Gallen have instead criticised those publicly calling out racism and supporting Ezra Mam.

Fittler, also a former Sydney Roosters player, used his platform on the Footy Show on Sunday to call for the NRL to sanction players who publicly spoke on the incident.
Indigenous All Stars captain and Birpai and Wiradjuri man, Latrell Mitchell were among those to post to Instagram, stating “NRL better deal with this s**t”.
Fittler said the players violated the league’s protocols.
“Why doesn’t everyone ring Ezra? Why does everything have to be done on social media?” Fittler said.
“The NRL has rules where you can’t come out and make comments about situations that are going to judiciary, so they should be in trouble.

“If you want to support Ezra, ring him up. Go and see him. That’s how you support someone.”

AAP has been told there is no plan for the NRL to sanction any player who has commented on the matter.
Paul Gallen called discussion of the incident ‘hysteria’ and said the commentary had prompted Leniu to plead guilty.
“The hysteria around this has been crazy,” Gallen said.
“If he had pleaded not guilty, he would never have received a fair treatment. Could you imagine a judiciary panel finding him not guilty?
“They would have been destroyed themselves.
“I think eight weeks is too much … I think five or six weeks is enough.”
Before Leniu, Gallen was the last NRL player found guilty of an on-field racist remark.
He was fined $10,000 by the NRL for a racial slur against St George Illawarra’s Mickey Paea in 2009, prompting him to step down as Cronulla captain and issue a public apology.
SIA’s culture and safety adviser Patrick Johnson, a former champion Indigenous sprinter, said Australia needs “to draw a clear line in the sand”.
“We are all responsible to call out racism,” Johnson said.
“We do not tolerate it in our sport now or in the future.
“Our kids deserve better as this doesn’t represent our Australian way of life.”

-With additional reporting from AAP