AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan hopes Adam Goodes’ experience with relentless booing won’t put current indigenous players off speaking out about racism.
The dual Brownlow medallist called time on his decorated career last September after the Sydney Swans’ semi-final loss to North Melbourne.
But the final year of his 372-game career was plagued by ugly booing from opposition supporters, which Goodes and the Swans believed was racially motivated.
After the booing crescendoed during a clash with West Coast in Perth, Goodes sat out a match due to stress caused by the long-running controversy, which sparked a furious national debate about racism.
He returned to complete the season but avoided the annual grand final parade of retiring players.
The AFL was criticised for being slow to act on the issue, and McLachlan has since apologised for leaving it “a week too late in speaking out”.
Ahead of the renamed Sir Doug Nicholls indigenous round, McLachlan said he hoped the sport’s current indigenous players would feel confident enough to speak up on race issues.
“I certainly hope so,” McLachlan said.
“Our game – and sport generally – plays a role in race relations in Australia.
“It provides a platform to grow, to have conversations, move forward and understand each other better.
“For all the lows of the incident with Adam, I do think there’s growth.
“We had conversations, and hopefully as Australians we progress.
“I certainly hope indigenous players are given a voice to speak and I’ll be doing everything I can to continue to make sure that’s the case.”
Goodes will return to the SCG on Friday night when the Swans kick off the indigenous round against undefeated North Melbourne.
It will be one year since last season’s corresponding match against Carlton, when Goodes performed an indigenous war dance that earned praise for his cultural pride but was also perceived to be a factor in the subsequent spike in spectator vitriol.
McLachlan did not believe racism was a widespread issue in the AFL, but added that there will still be “isolated incidents off the field”.
“Clearly we are not there yet, as a country,” he said.
“Our game – and sport generally – will continue to lead the way in having discussions about race and the role of indigenous Australians in our community and society.”