League supremo Gillon McLachlan believes the AFL industry’s handling of the ugly banana-throwing affair shows progress in dealing with indigenous affairs.
Indigenous Adelaide star Eddie Betts had a banana thrown at him by a Port Adelaide fan during Saturday night’s match at Adelaide Oval.
McLachlan says he immediately saw it as an “unambiguously racist” act that left him “disheartened”.
But the AFL chief says he’s been buoyed by the response from clubs, players and fans.
“We are on a journey to progress. We’re really pleased that the behaviour was called out by so many in our community and even by Port Adelaide fans (at the time),” he told reporters on Monday.
“We’re certainly asking our crowds to call out this behaviour. A silver lining in this has been the calling out from the crowd at the game and also the football community.”
Port quickly identified the woman club member who threw the banana and banned her indefinitely on Sunday after determining her intent was racist, while also offering her cultural awareness training, which she accepted.
McLachlan said he’d spoken with Betts’ wife, showing him how powerful sport can be in driving social change.
“I got great comfort in what she saw … as progress being made and football being important in that conversation,” he said.
“Every time we’re standing up here the outcry from the football community is greater … it accelerates how far we’ve come.
“Progress is hard fought.
“You have to have knocks like this that hurt you initially to have the conversations that take you forward and that’s part of our journey.”
The episode comes three years after indigenous icon Adam Goodes called security guards to eject a young Collingwood fan who labelled an “ape”.
Goodes was routinely booed at grounds around Australia for the rest of his career and McLachlan later apologised to him on behalf of the game for not acting sooner to stop it.
Also on Monday, AFL players joined those calling out the racist act.
AFL players’ indigenous advisory board chair and Hawthorn premiership-winner Shaun Burgoyne said the incident had appalled players.
“There’s no room for racism of any form in our game and we are saddened that incidents of this nature continue to occur,” Burgoyne said.
“Eddie Betts is one of the most popular players in the game and his 250th match should have been a time for celebration.
“The AFL industry is taking great strides to ensure Aussie Rules is a game for everyone, but this serves as a reminder that more work needs to be done.
Port Adelaide chairman David Koch defended his decision not to label the act as racist until late on Sunday.
“I was in contact with Eddie Betts all throughout yesterday and our Aboriginal leaders in the club and they approved every step that we took,” Koch told Melbourne radio station 3AW.
“Somebody who’s not used to that scrutiny, even though some may say she deserves it, you’ve got to be very careful about how you handle it.”