Racism in sports is a major issue in the Australian Football League as the color of a person’s skin presents an easy target for discrimination and violence. Racism has permeated our modern world as well as sports as evidenced by societal stigmatization and widespread discrimination of players belonging to minority groups (Cashmore, 2010). Players belonging to minority groups have been subjected to increasing racist behavior from spectators as well as opposing teams. I have witnessed it firsthand after the new players in a local league were subjected to racial abuse from opposing team players as well as spectators but no action was taken. As the team’s multicultural officer, the issue was brought to my attention because no action was taken against the opposing team and the spectators by the respective enforcement agencies. Therefore, I suggest a zero-tolerance policy to racism that includes stiff penalties and fines as a response to increasing laxity by the enforcement agencies.
Racism in Football
Australia is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, particularly with an indigenous population of the Aboriginals. In addition, the country has historically welcomed refugees from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Unfortunately, attempts by the refugees as well as the native populations to join the local football leagues have been characterized by racist perceptions by the opposing players as well as the spectators (Gorman, Lusher, & Reeves, 2016). The refugees and Aboriginal football players are recognized and praised when the team wins, but are ridiculed when the team loses.
I was recently appointed as the multicultural officer of a local football league with a mandate to tackle historically entrenched racism in football. During one of the games, the new players participating in the local league were subjected to racial abuse from the opposing teams and spectators (Skinner, Zakus, & Edwards, 2008). Unfortunately, no action was taken even though there was clear evidence that the opposing players and spectators chanted racist slogans targeting the new players. I was taken aback by the complacency and laxity of the enforcement agencies as such cases were increasingly common in the local football league.
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It has become a common occurrence in the local league because the respective agencies often downplay the issue or impose lenient fines and penalties on the offending players and spectators. The Australian Football League’s policies and code of ethics clearly prohibit racist behavior in the field of play (Farrington, Hall, Kilvington, Price, & Saeed, 2016). It has also outlined numerous penalties and fines to address racism from the local to the National League. Therefore, it was shocking that the respective agencies did not take any action against the opposing team’s players and spectators. I was appalled by the behavior of the opposing team’s players and spectators and decided to take a zero-tolerance approach to end racism in the local football league.
There exist a consensus among the football coaches in Australia that racism should not be tolerated in the game. However, only a few have acted on the issue as the majority remain silent over persistent racism in football. The majority of the coaches argue that the punitive measures prescribed by the Australian Football League are sometimes too costly for the team. For instance, abandoning or walking out of a fixture as a result of a racist incident affect the team’s overall performance in the league because crucial points are forfeited (Cashmore, 2010). In addition, both teams incur significant financial losses because the fans usually demand refunds for tickets purchased for the game. There also exists a subliminal consensus that no physical harm accompanies racist behavior such as chanting racist slogans and hurling racist insults. As such, rather than abandoning a game, the parties found guilty should be fined or penalized. Unfortunately, this perception has contributed partly to inaction by several coaches from the local to the National League.
Football players of both genders agree that racism is a persistent issue in Australian Football League from the local championships to the National League. The majority understand and recognize the issue as persistently affecting the gaming atmosphere, especially at the local leagues. Aboriginal players and immigrant players from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East suffer racially-inclined stereotyping due to entrenched racism in Australian society (Skinner, Zakus, & Edwards, 2008). All the players recognize that racism is a major issue in the Australian Football League, but they feel powerless to do anything because those in power, the coaches, and league administrators, appear quite tolerant of the issue. In spite of reporting incidences of racism to league administrators and coaches, very few cases receive proper attention. In most cases, the issue is ignored or the perpetrator leniently fined or penalized. The victims of racism in the Australian Football League, mostly aboriginal players and immigrants from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, argue that stringent enforcement of the relevant policies pertaining to the issue of racism is lacking from the local to the National League.
The spectators of the Australia Football League are divided on the issue of racism due to Australia’s diverse cultural demographic makeup. Australia has a predominantly white population, therefore, the Aboriginals and the immigrants from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East comprise the minority groups in football teams (Farrington, Hall, Kilvington, Price, & Saeed, 2016). While the minority groups are united in their calls for equality and end to racism in football, the white Australian population is divided on the issue. Over the years, several aboriginal players as well as immigrant players in the Australian Football League have been racially abused by spectators.
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The majority of the perpetrators are white. For instance, Adam Goodes, a Sydney Swans player, was called an ape by 13-year old in a match against Collingwood Magpies at Melbourne cricket ground in 2013 (McRae, 2020). Although the 13-year old girl was subsequently ejected from the stadium by the security, Adam Goodes was later booed by spectators during matches played outside Sydney in 2015. The booing incidents were spectators’ reaction to him having the 13-year old girl ejected from the stadium for calling him an ape. The Cronulla Riots documentary by SBS revealed the deeply entrenched racism that the mainstream media has over the years vehemently denied exists. During the riot, phrases like “100% Aussie Pride” as well as slogans such as “we grew here you flew here” were directed towards men of Middle Eastern appearance (Balendra, 2014). It was evidently clear that there exist racial tensions between white Australians and immigrants from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. These tensions reverberate across the Australian Football League from the lower leagues to the National League.
Actions and Consequences
Socially entrenched racism in Australia requires a zero-tolerance policy to protect ethnic minority football players. Although the Australian Football League’s policies and code of ethics clearly prohibit racism, the problem has persisted over the years due to laxity in enforcement of the prescribed measure to deal with the problem. Therefore, a different approach is necessary that involves the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Victorian Equal Opportunity to provide additional support to the Australian Football League (Gorman, Lusher, & Reeves, 2016). The Victorian Equal Opportunity as well as the Australian human rights commission will exert external pressure to ensure the Australian Football League addresses issues of racism in the game appropriately. A zero-tolerance policy supported by the two agencies will emphasize stringent penalties and fines for both the spectators as well as the players. Any spectator or group of spectators found guilty of engaging in racist behaviors will not only be ejected from the stadium but also suspended for the entire season. If the spectator is a repeat offender, he or she will be banned permanently from attending local or National League games.
On the other hand, a number of punitive measures will be applied to players caught engaging in racist behaviors. First offenders, will lose their weekly salary as well as a three-game suspension. Meanwhile, repeat offenders will have their contracts terminated in addition to being banned from ever playing football in Australia (Farrington, Hall, Kilvington, Price, & Saeed, 2016). Although these penalties might seem harsh, they are necessary to root out deep-seated racism in Australian society. The objective is to enforce a zero-tolerance policy that not only addresses but also deters racism in football.
A corrective approach is also necessary to complement the punitive approach. Cultural diversity training is essential to create awareness among the players as well as the spectators of the need to respect each other irrespective of their race, ethnic background or country of origin (Skinner, Zakus, & Edwards, 2008). Every club registered under the Australian Football League should provide cultural training to the staff and players at the beginning of every season. Participation in the Australian football league will be subject to compliance with this requirement. In addition, each club should include a cultural diversity training section in its weekly club magazine to sensitize the spectators on the need to respect the opposing teams and their spectators. If implemented consistently by all the clubs in the Australian Football League, the cultural training approach will help to educate the players and spectators on the need to promote racial unity.
Cashmore, E., 2010. Making Sense of Sports. London: Taylor & Francis.
Gorman, S., Lusher, D. & Reeves, K., 2016. Introduction: AFL’s Rule 35. Sport in Society: Cultures, Commerce, Media, Politics, 19(4), pp. 472-482.