AUSTRALIAN rules football has been hit by a racism scandal after a recruiter reportedly claimed he would not draft an Aboriginal unless the player had a white parent.
The comments – which prompted the recruiter to resign on Friday – followed a highly-publicised case in which a young Aboriginal player drafted from a remote community returned to his warring home town and allegedly stabbed someone with a machete.
The incident, involving Liam Jurrah, a forward with the Melbourne club, has dominated headlines for days and triggered a debate about the practice of recruiting players from isolated Aboriginal townships.
Jurrah was charged after he returned to his community in the Northern Territory, apparently to help try to settle a long-running tribal feud.
Though only 23, and the first player from remote central Australia to be drafted to the code, he is an elder of the Warlpiri people and was given permission by his club to attend to his community. During his visit, a conflict erupted and the 23-year-old now faces serious charges over an alleged attack on a 35-year-old man with a machete. He has apparently denied the charges and has been granted bail.
The incident received widespread coverage and prompted several clubs to claim they would continue to try to seek talent from among the remote Aboriginal communities, where the game is often played barefoot on dusty makeshift fields. Other clubs reportedly expressed hesitation about recruiting Aboriginal players because they can be difficult to manage.
Australian football, or AFL, is a national sport and the country's most highly-attended code.
One recruiter, Matthew Rendell, who works for the Adelaide Crows, reportedly told the league that "unless they have a white parent we are not going to draft an Aboriginal player and our club would not be alone in that".
When the comments emerged on Friday, Mr Rendell resigned and the club denied that it had adopted a race-based recruitment policy.
The club's head, Steven Trigg, said Rendell's position was "absolutely untenable".
"We can't have him attached to the club," he said.
Mr Rendell said his comments were misunderstood and he was "trying to help".
"I have a strong track record of recruiting Aboriginal players," he said.
"My comments were about where recruiting could finish up without proactive work. However, knowing the implication of such reports, I've decided to stand down."
Earlier, Jason Mifsud, the league's community engagement manager, said any attempt to base recruitments on race was "ignorant and offensive".
"The one vehicle this country has had in the last 15 years to elevate, celebrate and recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity is football and if that door is going to start to get shut on us then we are going to fight and scratch to keep it open," he told The Age newspaper.
"Because if these prevailing mindsets are as strong as we hear they are, we must fight to change them.