Journalists nationwide call up their contacts on a daily basis to see “what’s news” in their communities to seek out potential stories to fill their newspaper quotas for the week. Sometimes, by chance during an interview, an innocuous comment by a “high profile” person can take an average reporter’s article from page 23 to a front page scoop.
And so it was when Dean Ritchie from the Sydney Daily Telegraph broke a story under the heading “Was I snubbed over race” on May 1 from an interview with South Sydney rugby league winger Nathan Merritt.
Merritt, a popular Indigenous footballer, a scorer of 29 tries from his past 31 games, was still coming to terms with being left out of the City representative team to play Country in Coffs Harbour recently when Ritchie made his fortuitous call.
Although stopping short in his interview of accusing selectors of being racist, Merritt wanted to know whether he was overlooked because he played at Souths (a working class - no frills team) or because of his skin colour.
"I wonder whether it was more a Souths thing or a racial thing," Merritt told The Daily Telegraph.
"It's just a question."
When asked if he believed racism was still in rugby league, Merritt said: "It could be. There aren't too many Indigenous players who get selected.”
Now I would consider those comments measured, reasonable and fairly tame considering the innumerable setbacks experienced by Indigenous players throughout their careers in one of the toughest of sporting contests.
Some of our mob reluctantly accept the fact that they will be regularly overlooked by selectors who favour non-Indigenous footballers with half their ability. Perhaps the preferred footballers are related to selectors - which is not unusual in country league - or are players in teams where the selectors have some history.
Lee Wharton, a non-Indigenous coach of the 2007 Toowoomba Rugby League Team and of Wattles Rugby League, recently resigned from all future involvement with representative rugby league in the South West Division over what he termed “racial bias” shown in the selection room.
There was no ambiguity in Wharton’s letter (of which I have a copy) to John Barrett OAM, Chairman, South West Division, Queensland Rugby League, after witnessing as a selector, racial bias shown against three under-19 Indigenous players in favour of less talented non-Indigenous players during a selector’s meeting:
“I have been involved in many selections and representative processes at all levels of the game; however, never before have I experienced such bias, lack of professionalism and lack of integrity by my peers and associates.
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