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In defence of Eddie McGuire

By Chris Lewis - posted Friday, 19 February 2021

With a 2016 article noting that Indigenous representation on Australian Football League playing lists was around 9% (3% for administrative ranks), compared to 12% for the National Rugby league (4% administrative roles) at a time when the  Indigenous people comprised 2.7% of Australia’s population, a 2018 source indicates that coloured players comprise 42.5% of Major League Baseball (albeit that African-American players had declined from 13% in 2000 to 7.7%), 80.7% of NBA players, and over 70% in the National Football League (NFL).

Would the authors of the Do Better report recommend that US teams adopt more white players given that NFL and NBA teams are now dominated by Americans with African heritage?

There are also problems with the report’s suggestion that the Club can better deal with racism incidents more effectively internally through “clear and trusted avenues through which complaints could be made” with protection for whistle-blowers, which would help avoid outside legal processes and negative media publicity.


While the report is correct to note that racist incidents should be subject to penalties in the same way as other poor behaviour is (sexual misconduct, drug taking and public violence), I doubt whether a more thorough internal review of racism incidents can always avoid media attention or legal action.

Given that many incidents at a football club involve many players, as evident by the example of name-calling, it is virtually impossible for a club to take action against many players for so-called racist incidents after a period of time, beyond the club now discouraging potentially racist nicknames in line with greater awareness about racial sensitivities in recent years.

For example, while Heritier Lumumba refused to tolerate his nickname of ‘chimp’ from 2012, after enduring it from 2005, it would be ludicrous to punish players for such name-calling on the basis it is now deemed racist.  

As one 2011 academic piece points out, many studies examining the use of nicknames tend to focus on their negative connotations, often in association with bullying and name-calling behaviour” yet “some studies do attend to the total repertoire of use while a restricted few focus only on the positive nicknaming practices which help express warmth, affection, or build solidarity”.

Just recently, the former Collingwood (indigenous) player Simon Buckley responded to the report on Facebook (since deleted) by stating Lumumba “would refer to himself as chimp”, “never complained when he was winning flags”, and should have “called it out at the time” rather than now run with it in the media.  

At other times, a club may be limited about what it can do with regard to incidents of racism. For instance, when Adam Goodes pointed to a 13 year old girl in the crowd after she called him an “ape” during a 2013 AFL match, which led to the girl apologising to Goodes after a police interview without her parents present, all the Club could do was apologise.


The Club, like other AFL clubs, could also do little with regard to the booing of Goodes which persisted for several seasons within a feeling that Goodes’s reaction was over the top.   

To conclude, I agree with the former Collingwood player Dwayne Beams who expressed the view that McGuire was forced to resign through “negativity” and a “witch hunt” in line with his wider view that he personally never felt he “was involved in a racist club”.

While McGuire resigned as president on 9 February 2021 because of his immediate response to the report where he declared it was a “proud and historic day”, a tearful McGuire also noted “I remind people that our recent review, inspired by Black Lives Matter, that part of a six-year journey of our reconciliation action plan was to look to what we need to do in the next 10 years, not the last”.

In my opinion, the Do Better report, while making useful recommendations, also serves to divide people through its failure to provide a more balanced report capable of addressing racism in sport in line with recent societal developments and expectations, although there is always the need to do much more, as acknowledged by McGuire.

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About the Author

Chris Lewis, who completed a First Class Honours degree and PhD (Commonwealth scholarship) at Monash University, has an interest in all economic, social and environmental issues, but believes that the struggle for the ‘right’ policy mix remains an elusive goal in such a complex and competitive world.

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