AFL boss disagrees with Eddie McGuire's 'proud day' response to Collingwood racism report

AFL boss Gillon McLachlan says he would have used a different word and characterises the report as ‘sobering and confronting’

The Collingwood football club president, Eddie McGuire, has apologised for stating it was a “proud day” for the club when discussing the release of a scathing report that found the AFL club had a culture of “structural racism” under his leadership.

Collingwood had the Do Better report since December but McGuire blamed a hastily called press conference on Monday – after the report was leaked to the media – for his poor choice of words.

“Over the course of an hour, we answered every question, but in my opening I got it wrong,” he said at Collingwood’s annual general meeting on Tuesday night.

“I said it was a proud day for Collingwood and I shouldn’t have. I did not mean we’re proud of past incidents of racism and the hurt that have caused. It’s been interpreted widely that way and I regret that deeply.”

McGuire said he had made the comments “under the pressure of the day” and the focus on his choice of words had distracted from the report’s findings.

In the press conference on Monday, McGuire mentioned “proud” more than once. He also said he was “extremely proud” that the club was “unflinching in holding up a mirror to itself [and] it was a brave first step that few would have the courage to take”.

On Tuesday, McGuire said the club was apologetic, humbled and galvanised to dismantle any structures of systemic racism at the organisation.

“This is my last year of 23 years as president of this club, I want to leave it knowing that I have helped implement the next stage of changes we have committed to on this historic mission. [We have] committed to a year of hard work to implement these recommendations so we become an even more inclusive club.”

The AFL boss, Gillon McLachlan, had earlier on Tuesday said he “didn’t agree” with the way McGuire responded to the report on Monday.

McLachlan said he had spoken to McGuire and “asked him some questions” about the way it was handled.

“I’m disappointed that the focus was the way that the report was talked to, rather than the report itself. Because that’s the important piece, that there is a report that goes to the history of racism in the Collingwood football club and it has 18 recommendations that are going to drive that club going forward,” McLachlan said.

McLachlan said McGuire stating it was a “proud day for the club” was not the right phrase to use.

“I spoke to Ed this morning and his intention was to say that he was wanting to look forward and embrace the recommendations. The articulation, I didn’t agree with it, and I think that yesterday was more of a sobering and confronting day, and we had that conversation.

“I would have used a different word. I thought that it was more sobering and confronting.”

The AFL’s inclusion manager, Tanya Hosch, told Guardian Australia that Collingwood needed to “really listen” to the feedback of the star player Héritier Lumumba and others who have had “bad experiences” at Collingwood.

McGuire disputed the key finding of the leaked report that slammed the club for its long-running culture of “structural racism” by stating on Monday: “We’re not a mean-spirited club. We’re not a racist club.”

Hosch confirmed that the AFL had not seen the report until after it was leaked to the media.

Lumumba, who endured racist taunts over 10 years while playing for Collingwood, told Guardian Australia the club’s response to the report was “shameful and offensive” but said he felt vindicated by its findings.

“Instead of addressing the findings in the report, they issued a whole [lot] of meaningless statements, refusing to show accountability for the past and dismissed addressing historical complaints as ‘semantics’,” Lumumba said.

Hosch said she could understand Lumumba’s response.

“I can appreciate why he feels like that,” she said. “He’s been asserting his voice and experience for quite some time, and if he didn’t hear what he was hoping for yesterday – and I think you’ve heard a number of people come out and say that they were hoping to hear more than they did – then I’m not at all surprised by that.

“We’ve got to keep listening to Héritier and other people who have had bad experiences, whether it’s at Collingwood or anywhere, if we’re really going to get to the point of doing what the report says, which is to do better, to really listen and really understand the detrimental and significant impact that racism has on on the victims of it,” she said.

The Do Better report, co-authored by respected Yuwalaraay academics, the UTS distinguished professor Larissa Behrendt and Prof Lindon Coombs, found that while there had been progress on an individual level, Collingwood had failed to address systemic racism.

“Too often the reaction was defensive rather than proactive and this aggravated, rather than mitigated, the impact of that racism on the people who experienced it,” the report said.

“All of this comes back to the leadership of the Collingwood Football Club – particularly its board – and the need for it to set the vision and values of the club and to drive structural change.”

The report – which had been with the board since early December – was leaked to media on Monday before Tuesday night’s annual general meeting of the club, adding to the pressure on McGuire and the Collingwood board to respond to its findings.

The Greens senator Lidia Thorpe said Collingwood should “grow a spine” and demand McGuire’s resignation.

“As the head of the club, Eddie not only oversaw these issues – he’s been part of the problem,” she said. He should apologise publicly and unreservedly to those impacted by structural racism at the club, she said.

But at Monday’s error-laiden press conference, McGuire said he would stay on, and disputed the report’s key finding.

“There was not systemic racism as such, we just didn’t have the processes in place as we look back now to do the job we would like to have done,” he said.

Hosch has a different view of the report: “This report makes it very clear that there’s been a long history of systemic racism and individual racism over many years. A number of those incidents have been very highly publicised. We need to remember that for every publicised matter that happens in an elite sporting club, there’s dozens and dozens happening at community level.

“While [McGuire’s] the president of the club – and obviously, he has foreshadowed his departure at the end of this year – he’s in a leadership role, which means that comes with responsibility.

“I think this work will be continued after Eddie’s left the club, and we’ve got to just be focusing on the work that the club’s committed to, embracing all of the recommendations in the report.

“That implementation will be in place for some time and will require the leadership of many people.”

Hosch said the club’s proposed expert panel on anti-racism would advise the club on how to make amends, as recommended by the report.

“The club is also going to set up an expert panel on anti-racism and I would imagine that a group like that would be advising the club on how to work through the opportunity for reparations, remedies, apologies, and anything of that nature.

“And I think it’s important that whatever is committed to, it follows through.”


Josh Taylor and Lorena Allam

The GuardianTramp

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