Saturday 24 March 2018

Race row ignited in Australia after former coach calls Aboriginal footballers 'cannibals'

Bonnie Malkin

A race row has erupted in Australian sport after a senior Australian Football League figure referred to Aboriginal players as "cannibals" who could not be seen in the dark.

In a speech at a charity lunch in Melbourne, Mal Brown, a former coach and player, said that when he was making his team selection at a night-time game years ago he couldn't pick Aboriginal players out because of poor lighting at the ground.

"We had a distinct disadvantage, the West Australians, because the Victorians picked both sides," Mr Brown said. "They cheated, they picked the best players. And because there were no (stadium) lights, I couldn't pick any of the cannibals.

"I couldn't pick (Aboriginals) Nicky Winmar or Michael Mitchell or Chrissy Lewis. All the good black fellows, we couldn't pick them because they couldn't see them in the light."

The comments caused instant outrage among Aboriginal rights groups and Aboriginal AFL players.

AFL bosses swiftly distanced themselves from the incident, saying that the remarks were "disgusting" and did not reflect the view of the football community.

AFL chief Andrew Demetriou said the comments insulted all indigenous people and were inappropriate in any forum.

"They are inappropriate and insulting, they are hurtful and there is no place for any comments like that in our game or indeed the wider community today.

"Indigenous players and communities have made and are making an enormous contribution to our game."

Mr Brown himself has apologised, saying he "made a dickhead of myself".

He denied he was racist, and said that he used the word cannibals as "a term of endearment". However, he admitted that his remarks "weren't as funny as I thought".

Mr Brown said he had spent many years playing and working with Aboriginal footballers.

"I know these kids and they know that what I say would not have any racism in it. It was just a silly terminology that I used at the wrong time at the wrong place," he said.

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