In the wake of the recent racial vilification of Sydney Swans champion Adam Goodes, Indigenous football identities in Perth are standing up to racism.
West Coast great David Wirrpanda says Australians have come a long way toward addressing racism, but there’s still a long way to go.
“Racism does still exist, although the Australian Football Commission would be appalled to know,” Mr Wirrpanda says.
He says society should take the recent vilification of Adam Goodes – by a 13-year-old Collingwood fan during the Indigenous round at the Melbourne Cricket Ground – and look at why it occurred.
“There is a need for society to be educated but I think we should start with children being educated in all cultures,” Mr Wirrpanda says.
“This shouldn’t stop at Aboriginal culture.
“It should be all cultures so [that] we accept any differences”.
Former AFL player Jarrad Oakley Nicholls, an Aboriginal man who plays for East Perth, says he was racially vilified during a WA Football League game last year against West Perth.
Oakley Nicholls says the impact of racial abuse against one person often has a much wider impact.
“I felt that he wasn’t having a go at me but at my past, my elders and all Aboriginal people in general,” he says.
“Even today I think about what happened that day.
“I will never forget the bloke that did it.
“It will always stay with me and my family.”
Oakley Nicholls says all AFL and WAFL players undergo cultural awareness training before the start of each season.
“All players are educated on what the racial vilification code is and that’s why there is no excuse for it, but some players are just ignorant I guess,” he says.
Oakley Nicholls says sledging has always been a part of football but that sledging crosses a line when racial vilification is involved.
“I think some players get caught up in the game and say things that shouldn’t even cross their mind,” he says.
“It’s just mean and demoralises a person, their family and their culture.”
“I was happy that the WAFL gave him the right penalties – an automatic three-week suspension which isn’t much but that’s what the rules are.”
Oakley Nicholls says that when he was playing for Richmond in the AFL he witnessed many instances of racial abuse.
“People would often have a dig at you over the fence, calling you names and telling you where to go,” he says.
“Looking back now, I should’ve stood up to it and let them know you’re not going to stand for that.”
Oakley Nicholls says racial vilification is always going to occur, but the more it can be eliminated on the footy field, the better.
“Every time something big happens, especially in the AFL involving a high profile player, it makes people sit back and think about it,” he says.
“Sometimes it opens people’s eyes up and [makes them] recognise that it isn’t right.”
West Coast Eagles Indigenous Liason Officer Phil Narkle, who played in the AFL between 1984 and 1990, says things have changed over the years but racism will never be stopped.
“A person who … abuses someone because of their race, religion etc, they don’t know how sensitive and hurtful it can be to the victim,” Narkle says.
He says that on a couple of occasions he was racially abused.
“I thought it was disrespectful to my family, my people and me,” Narkle says.
“There were no rules and regulations in place on racial abuse when I played so I learnt to deal with it and not let it affect my football.”
Narkle says that to put an end to discrimination on the football field the sport needs to focus on educating people about all cultures, and about what is right and wrong.
Photography: Matilda Cunningham