It comes after the Adelaide Crows’ Eddie Betts and Port Adelaide’s Paddy Ryder were both vilified by spectators on the weekend.
But the AFL’s National Diversity Championship is a move to teach younger players the importance of inclusion.
Port Adelaide has suspended a fan’s membership after the alleged racial abuse of Adelaide Crows player Eddie Betts in Saturday night’s match in Adelaide.
The club says the fan was removed from the venue and it has indefinitely suspended his membership.
Port Adelaide says a Crows supporter also racially vilified its ruckman Paddy Ryder during the game but ran away before security officials were alerted.
The AFL’s general manager of inclusion and social policy, Tanya Hosch, says the league must continue to act when such incidents occur.
“What we can’t do is turn away from the fact that these incidents continue to happen, and we’ve got to remain vigilant in dealing with them. But what we also know (is) there will always be a few people who will push the boundaries, who will want to argue about whether it is racism or whether it isn’t. Racism is not okay in any form, and it’s something that we just have to continue to act on and to call it out when we see it.”
The AFL is the first sporting code in the world to put a racial-vilification policy in place.
But Ms Hosch says racism still exists, particularly in the spectator base.
“It is a problem. We’ve got to take it really seriously, and we’ve got to keep thinking about what we can do to further educate the community and just make it very clear that it’s unacceptable.”
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan, who has spoken with Ms Hosch about fixing the problem, says he agrees more needs to be done.
“We’re going to continue to front up on this issue until we get change. There are a lot of different ideas. But we need to, I think, double down on our efforts. And she’s going to come back to the commission with a series of recommendations.”
Both current and former stars have thrown their support behind the two players.
Former Sydney star Michael O’Loughlin, says the AFL is mostly a diverse and inclusive sport but a select few sometimes spoil it.
“AFL football’s a game for everyone to play, and it doesn’t matter where you come from and what colour your skin. It’s an unbelievable game. It’s a brilliant game to bring everyone together, and, unfortunately, we still have some clowns out there that make these silly, silly comments.”
The AFL’s National Diversity Championship, which includes 200 participants from Indigenous and multicultural backgrounds, is celebrating the sports’ diversity.
Musician and diversity ambassador L-Fresh the Lion, the son of Sikh immigrants who became a hip-hop star, has been a mentor in the program.
He says the game should simply be free of any bullying or intimidation based on gender, race, religion or skin colour.
“It’s a safe space, it’s an encouraging space, and it’s one where people can be them(selves) without having to feel like there are any barriers limiting them. You know, it’s a space for them to shine.”
Troy Duckett, an Indigenous teenager who lives in the New South Wales coastal city of Coffs Harbour, is one of this year’s participants.
He says he has seen racism but never in sport.
“Yeah, around school, there was always racial discrimination and stuff like that, just from other kids. Around sport, there was not much for me, like nothing racially, nothing like that.”
But his teammate, James Rene, describes a different experience for him.
“As a kid, I guess, when I was playing footy a little bit, I was called a few names and racial slurs, but I would just carry on. Sometimes I’d get into fights, but I learned from that about you just don’t worry about what people say against you. You just have to stick up for yourself and play your best game and play for yourself.”
The AFL is trying to eliminate that kind of prejudice by educating emerging players on the importance of preparing mentally for a sporting career, to be resilient, not retaliatory.
Michael O’Loughlin, also a mentor in the program, described his own experiences of racism.
“As a kid, going (through) school was really difficult. The one thing I said to the kids was, obviously, the way I reacted to it as a youth, both in the classroom and on the footy field as a junior player, was with my fists, and that was the wrong way to go about it.”
He says education is the key to defeating racism.
“We’re doing our absolute best to educate these young guys that they’re going to have to be better than some other people out there who, for whatever reason, think it’s okay to say the things that they say.”