NRL must act against racist abuse of fans

The racism lurking in the stands has barely waited for the NRL season to begin. Thursday night’s second-round clash between Penrith and South Sydney at BlueBet Stadium was marred when a 15-year-old wearing a Sydney Roosters shirt allegedly used a racial slur at full-back Latrell Mitchell as he left the field at half-time.

The NRL Integrity Unit and NSW Police are working together to establish what happened, including an interview with the teenager. Sources with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity as the investigation is active, have said so herald There are conflicting reports as to what was said on the night.

The NRL has been a wonderful path for Aboriginal and Islander players. But apart from an incident in 2018 when two fans who racially abused Greg Inglis at BlueBet Stadium were indefinitely banned, historically there are incidents of racism and cultural insensitivity within the sports community – from both fans and clubs the player himself – with few littered episodes. Mitchell himself faced racial abuse from rival Roosters in 2020 following his transfer.

Thursday’s alleged insult comes as Australia’s Human Rights Commission is calling on NRL clubs to sign up to a code to stamp out racism at sporting events. While many organizations such as the NRL, AFL, Cricket Australia, Tennis Australia, Golf Australia and some of the country’s largest sporting venues have adopted the principles, only one NRL club (Cronulla Sharks) has signed the guidelines. The commission is reportedly hoping several NRL clubs will also come on board. There is reason to be hopeful given that the code was developed with sports administrators after Brent Naden claimed he was racially abused during a game for the Panthers on the Central Coast in 2020.

Three years later little has happened. The NRL seems reluctant to respond to the apparent reluctance of its member clubs to accept the Commission’s proposals.

Rabbitohs star Latrell Mitchell is back at training on Monday, sharing a laugh with two visiting children.

Rabbitohs star Latrell Mitchell is back at training on Monday, sharing a laugh with two visiting children.Credit:Edwina cucumbers

The NRL is not the only football code rushing to reflect changing societal attitudes towards First Nations people. Former Sydney Swans champion Adam Goodes was slandered by a 13-year-old in the 2013 Indigenous Round, sparking a wave of racially motivated boos over the next two years. The girl in question was said not to have known the full meaning of her words, and her mother went public, urging Goodes to “have a man and take it easy if he wants to play the game.” Media commentators, including Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine, also flocked to Goodes. The documentary 2019 The final quarter hit the zeitgeist, but the twin Brownlow medalist had long since left the field.

The AFL has stepped up efforts to tackle racism since Nicky Winmar put the issue on the agenda in 1993 by pulling up his St Kilda sweater and pointing to his skin after being showered with verbal abuse. The AFL has now mandated the appointment of full-time Indigenous Welfare Officers at the clubs to promote cultural awareness and cultural safety programs. But racism lurks in the AFL, too, waiting for its moments: the Code’s efforts were countered by Eddie McGuire’s infamously offensive comments about Goodes, Eddie Betts’ revelations of racist behavior at an Adelaide Crows training camp in 2018 and allegations by former Indigenous players last year Hawthorn undermine football club.

Loading NRL must act against racist abuse of fans

Ryan Sederquist

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