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Racial vilification expert wants to refocus on other elite sports

A researcher behind a ground-breaking study into racial vilification in the AFL said he would also like to put other elite sports from cricket to netball under the microscope.

Dr Sean Gorman was a lead author on the recently-released book The Biggest Game in Town which was the result of a three-year study of culture within the AFL football clubs and which involved more than 400 players, coaches and club staff.

The Curtin University researcher told www.nit.com.au he would now like to work with the NRL, Cricket Australia, Netball Australia and second-tier football clubs such as the VFL and WAFL on similar projects.

He said a lack of understanding of a player or athlete’s culture and background could have a massive effect on individuals.

“When dealing with the human condition and people’s lives ‘we’re the football club’ doesn’t cut it anymore,” Dr Gorman said. “You need to meet players half way.”

His comments came as the AFL Players Association released an updated guide for AFL clubs and players on supporting Indigenous footballers.

Indigenous stars Shaun Burgoyne (Hawthorn), Allen Christensen (Brisbane Lions), Chad Wingard (Port Adelaide), Jarrod Pickett (GWS Giants), Michael Johnson (Fremantle Dockers), Neville Jetta (Melbourne Demons), Shane Edwards (Richmond Tigers) and Danyle Pearce (Fremantle Dockers) were advisers.

The guidelines stress the importance of cultural considerations for Indigenous players including Sorry Business after the death of a family member, men’s business, tribal lore and initiation responsibilities.

“It means a fair bit to the Indigenous players because it means the club is going to have more information about the players they have on their lists and the potential players they are going to be bringing into the club in the next few years,” Burgoyne said.

Artwork featured in the booklet was designed by Hawthorn’s Jermaine Miller-Lewis.

Meanwhile, researchers from Perth’s Curtin University and Victoria’s Swinburne University of Technology and Federation University examined the cultures of nine AFL clubs for Dr Gorman’s The Biggest Game, which was published in May and examines the AFL’s anti-vilification policy.

It found that while on the field, player-to-player vilification had been almost stamped out, some forms of prejudice remained.

“Despite the official policy of racial harmony and tolerance in all major football codes in Australia, there remains a long way to go in eradicating racial vilification and changing attitudes within sport and throughout the Australian community,” it said.

But it found that if the AFL and its players were compared to the general Australian population and other workplaces, sporting clubs and groups, the work they had done was “very good”.

The AFL, the highest corporate employer of Indigenous Australians per capita outside the mining industry, introduced its anti-vilification law, known as Rule 35, 21 years ago after Essendon footballer Michael Long was racially abused. It was seen as the single biggest act of reconciliation by any sporting code in Australian history.

There are 73 Indigenous men and Torres Strait Islanders in the AFL, 10 percent of its player group.

Dr Gorman said a bigger study of other sporting codes would be dependent on funding.

Wendy Caccetta


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