As offensive as he found Friday night’s anti-Muslim banner controversy, AFL chief Gillon McLachlan admits it will be difficult for police to find the perpetrators.
Collingwood’s clash with Richmond at the MCG was marred by ugly scenes when a sign, adorned with “UPF” logos and the slogan “Stop the mosques”, was displayed by the scoreboard at the City End of the ground at halftime.
It was also alleged Richmond player Bachar Houli, who is a Muslim, was racially abused during the game but McLachlan said an AFL investigation had uncovered no evidence of this.
The AFL is continuing to work with security staff and police to identify the individuals involved.
Speaking to reporters from AFL House on Saturday, McLachlan repeated his condemnation of the culprits who, he said, were not AFL people and had simply used the game as a platform for their offensive views.
The banner was quickly taken down and those responsible, who didn’t have their personal details taken, were ejected from the ground.
“The police have said today their ability to prosecute is difficult,” McLachlan said.
“It’s hard. I know that our guys are talking to Victoria Police to see how they may prosecute – I know there are challenges with that – but we will continue to work with them.”
McLachlan agreed security staff had erred in not at least attempting to record the identities of those involved.
“There’s going to be learnings out of this – the MCG security contractors will continue to improve,” he said.
“That’s was a disappointing aspect. I’m not sure they could have done it easily either but I don’t know the full detail of that but it is a disappointing aspect.”
A video of the banner, which also read “Go Pies!”, being put in place was later uploaded to the Facebook page of far-right political group the United Patriots Front.
“There’s a group taking broad responsibility but we don’t know about the specific individuals who put up the sign,” McLachlan said.
“They’re not AFL people – they’re representing extreme minority views. They’re not welcome at our game and they’re not supporters of our game.”
Magpies president Eddie McGuire promised bans for those involved if they were found to be members of the club.
“These people do not speak for Collingwood and are condemned by Collingwood,” a club statement read.
“If it established that they have a formal connection to the club, this connection will be severed.
“There is no place at Collingwood or in our game for such behaviour.”
McLachlan echoed those sentiments and said the league would work with the MCG to ensure those involved were not admitted in the future.
McLachlan said he had spoken to Houli himself on Saturday and was satisfied there was no racial or religious basis to any verbal abuse directed at the Tigers defender.
“He didn’t hear, and there were no officials in the vicinity who heard, any racial abuse,” he said.
“There was an allegation or speculation and it’s been followed up and I don’t think it actually occurred.
“I think there was a level of (general) abuse. That’s something that goes on at our games.
“I’m not condoning it but there’s a level of abuse suffered by our players at certain times and it’s distinct from racial abuse.”