Stop downplaying racism, integrity boss tells sports

By Steve Larkin
Updated March 10 2024 - 10:55am, first published 10:53am
David Sharpe says athletes guilty of racism should face the same lengthy penalties given to fans. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)
David Sharpe says athletes guilty of racism should face the same lengthy penalties given to fans. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

Australian sport leaders must stop downplaying racism amid a fresh wave of vilification claims, the nation's sport integrity chief says.

Sport Integrity Australia (SIA) chief executive David Sharpe says athletes guilty of racism should face the same lengthy penalties given to fans in similar situations.

Sharpe is particularly critical of the downplaying of racism by influential people in Australian sport.

"Attitudes won't change until the narrative changes," Sharpe said on Sunday.

"Sport and sponsors' brands are being aligned with poor behaviours, yet these brands have the power to drive a cultural shift to eradicate these poor behaviours."

Sharpe's comments come after a week when the AFL joined the NRL and Football Australia in being linked to racism claims.

The AFL is facing a new class action alleging historic racism of North Melbourne's Indigenous Krakouer brothers, Jim and Phil, in the 1980s.

The class action lodged in the Victorian Supreme Court last Tuesday alleges the Krakouers were vilified by identities including former Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy, who has denied the allegations.

The AFL has vowed to fight the class action, saying it disagrees with claims the VFL/AFL has been conducted negligently.

The class action is open to more than 1000 former VFL/AFL players who are Indigenous or persons of colour and their families, and has been submitted by Margalit Injury Lawyers, the firm behind a separate concussion class action against the AFL.

The AFL action came in the same week Sydney Roosters forward Spencer Leniu apologised to Brisbane Broncos five-eighth Ezra Mam for making a racist remark during last Sunday's NRL match in Las Vegas.

Leniu will plead guilty to a contrary conduct charge at the NRL judiciary on Monday.

Football Australia has also been dragged into a furore, with Matildas captain Sam Kerr facing a racial harassment charge in the UK.

Kerr pleaded not guilty in a London court last Monday to a charge of using insulting, threatening or abusive words that caused alarm or distress to a police officer.

Sharpe, while not directly addressing the cases involving the AFL, NRL or Kerr, said Australia's sports leaders needed to call out any commentary attempting to normalise or justify racist behaviours.

"It is 2024, not 1924, and there must be zero tolerance when it comes to racism in sport," he said.

"Any inappropriate comments, whatever they are in nature, are not just a bit of 'banter' or 'just fun and games on the field'.

"There are no excuses for slurs that could be interpreted as racist in nature. If the comments cause hurt, then intent is irrelevant.

"If the comments offend an individual, they also offend their families, their countries, their culture.

"We see strong messages sent to fans and crowds found guilty of racist slurs with lengthy penalties. These same sanctions need to apply to athletes.

"Australian sports leaders and sponsors must send a message to the world in the lead-up to the 2032 Brisbane Olympic and Paralympic Games.

"The world is watching. Eradicating racism in sport is the legacy we could be proud of."

SIA's culture and safety adviser Patrick Johnson, a former champion Indigenous sprinter, said Australia needs "to draw a clear line in the sand".

"We are all responsible to call out racism," Johnson said.

"We do not tolerate it in our sport now or in the future.

"Our kids deserve better as this doesn't represent our Australian way of life."

Australian Associated Press