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Eddie McGuire - courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Eddie McGuire

In January, Collingwood president Eddie McGuire announced that he would be stepping down from his role at the end of year. However, he has decided to step down immediately after calls for his resignation and criticism of comments he made after a report of a "culture of racism" at the club was leaked to the media prematurely. The club had commissioned an independent investigation last June after former defender Heritier Lumumba (aka Harry O'Brien)  told of the racism he encountered during his time at the club. He said on social media that he was subjected to racist jokes and nicknamed "Chimp". He also said Coach Nathan Buckley failed to support him. He was eventually traded to Melbourne where he saw out his career. 

After the report was leaked, in a hastily convened press conference, McGuire said it was "an historic and proud day" for the club after the report found racism had resulted in "profound and enduring harm to First Nations and players which "affected them, their communities, and set dangerous norms for the public"."  He said the report showed Collingwood was serious about addressing the issues that have plagued them for decades “We have spent the last six years in a deep dive into how we can make ourselves better, provide leadership and conversation in the community ... We have decided as a club that this fight against racism and discrimination is where we want to be. We make mistakes. We learn, we strive to get better. We commissioned this report not to pay lip services to a worldwide tragedy, but to lay the foundations for our game, our people and our community.”

However, he did a backflip the next day, apologizing for his choice of words when he said it was a proud day for the club. He blamed the hasty press conference, saying,  "... in my opening I got it wrong ... I said it was a proud day for Collingwood and I shouldn’t have. I did not mean we’re proud of past incidents ... and the hurt that 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”. He also said the club was apologetic, humbled and galvanized to eliminate racism within the club. He said the club was committed to implementing the recommendations from the report. One point McGuire took exception to was the "long-running culture of “structural racism”. He said, “We’re not a mean-spirited club. We’re not a racist club.”

AFL boss Gillon McLachlan was disappointed with McGuire's comments and met with him to discuss what had happened, “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 ... of racism in the Collingwood football club and it has 18 recommendations that are going to drive that club going forward.” 

The AFL’s inclusion manager, Tanya Hosch, was also interviewed and said the club really needed to listen to Lumumba and others who experienced racism at the club. She confirmed the AFL had not seen the report before it had been published in the media. She also disagreed with McGuire, “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 publicized. We need to remember that for every publicized matter that happens at a club, there’s dozens and dozens happening at community level."

Lumumba, who has refused all overtures by the club for a reconciliation, said the club's response to the report was "shameful and offensive” but 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’.” Hosch said she could understand Lumumba's feelings, “He’s been asserting his voice and experience for quite some time, and if he didn’t hear what he was hoping for ... 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.” .

The report found progress at an individual level but the club failed to address what it called "systemic racism". it went on to say, “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.' it laid the blame at the feet of the club leadership and its board, saying they were the ones who needed to push for change.  

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 publicized. We need to remember that for every publicized matter that happens in an elite sporting club, there’s dozens others."

Of the backlash and his immediate resignation, McGuire said, "People have latched on to my opening line last week and as a result I have become a lightning rod for criticism but have placed the club in a position where it is hard to move forward with our plans of clear air. I try my best and I don't always get it right, but I don't stop trying. The board ... commissioned the Do Better Report for the right reasons. We can learn from our past. This is why I say we are not a racist club, far from it. I remind people that our recent review, inspired by 'Black Lives Matter', that part of a six-year journey of our reconciliation action plan was to look to what we need to do in the next 10 years, not the last."



Article last changed on Sunday, March 07, 2021 - 10:11 PM EST

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