In line with divided opinion amongst Collingwood fans, I am not impressed by the recent Do Better — Independent review into Collingwood Football Club’s responses to Incidents of Racism and Cultural Safety in the Workplace,
With the report making 18 recommendations to address racism “in a meaningful way” at every level of the club from values to accountability and transparency, it includes statements “that there is something distinct and egregious about Collingwood’s history”; the evidence is “compelling and speaks to systemic racism of the kind that means the concerted efforts of individuals do not translate into change”; and “racism appears to be a part of Collingwood Football Club’s DNA”.
However, an objective report (conducted by academics) should not merely structure the evidence of the past in a negative light to make its recommendations given the Club’s recent and considerable efforts to address racism more effectively.
Rather, a balanced report should recognise the strengths, weaknesses and limitations of the Club’s recent response to racism.
After all, the assertion that little has changed at Collingwood under McGuire with regard to racism is a travesty given the 1993 comment by the then President (Allan McAllister) of indigenous players, “as long as they conduct themselves like white people, well, off the field, everyone will admire and respect … As long as they conduct themselves like human beings, they will be all right. That's the key”.
I argue this despite President McGuire’s admitted gaffe in 2013 when he apologised to Adam Goodes after the latter was called an ‘ape’ by a young Collingwood supporter during an AFL match, only for McGuire to go on radio and suggest Goodes be used to promote a King Kong Musical.
Under McGuire, the Club’s efforts to address racism have been significant and now includes:
- a Bullying Policy and a Social Media and Networking Policy, which from 2020 policy also highlights both direct (interpersonal) and indirect (structural) racism;
- the Barrawarn Program which includes cultural awareness training for staff to provide information and a deeper understanding of different cultures and their experiences;
- a First Nations board member;
- an Indigenous position on staff (the Manager for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs) to focus on education programs and cultural activities throughout the Club;
- a Reconciliation Action Plan, across its football and netball teams, to oversee progress to include senior leadership of the Club and highly respected members of the Indigenous community;
- the Club’s Cheer Squad being given training and a revised Code of Conduct which resulted in the suspension of two members of the Cheer Squad following a breach of the Code of Conduct in 2019;
- the Club pursuing a person who vilified Travis Varcoe via social media during 2020 by lodging a formal complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission;
- Collingwood players kneeling in support for the Black Lives Matter movement, as was the case by sporting teams around the world;
- and the Club issuing a formal apology on 24 August 2020 for its part in racially abusing Robert Muir during his career with St Kilda.
The report’s call for a more proactive Club response to racism mirrors a view that sport must take the lead, perhaps in line with the famous National Basketball Association (NBA) player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 2018 summary that
...professional sports has always been a mirror of America’s attitude toward race: as long as black players were restricted from taking the field, then the rest of black Americans would never truly be considered equal, meaning they would not be given equal educational or employment opportunities … Right now, sports may be the best hope for change regarding racial disparity because it has the best chance of informing white Americans of that disparity and motivating them to act.
But there is another story that counters the report’s recommendations which requires further discussion.
For instance, the report’s recommendation that the Club should recruit more players and staff of indigenous and other cultural backgrounds downplays the existing reality that sporting clubs are indeed pursuing talent to fill their player rosters at a time when institutional racism has been totally discredited by government policies and majority public opinion, both here and abroad.
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