Adam Goodes has been subjected to persistent booing from opposition supporters throughout the season, but a torrent of abuse during a recent game in Perth has brought the issue to a head.
The Brownlow medallist has taken an indefinite break from the game and is reportedly considering retiring due to the constant heckling.
The issue has divided fans and commentators – while some prominent figures have come out in support of Goodes, others maintain the booing is not racially motivated.
Sydney Swans CEO Andrew Ireland said suggestions the booing is about Goodes’ ability as a player are excuses.
“I think there are commentators who make those types of comments and I think they constantly play the race card in a lot of things they say,” he said.
“The fact people don’t like him making some comments around Indigenous people, to me, is the reason why he’s copping what he is.”
Matthew Klugman from Victoria University Institute of Sport also believes Goodes is being targeted for taking a stand against racism.
“There’s a deep level of discomfort and also hatred being expressed,” he said.
“He’s actually standing proudly in his difference and saying Australia needs to change.”
‘Racism has a face and it’s a 13-year-old girl’
Goodes is no stranger to controversy about race, having been called “an ape” by a 13-year-old during the opening match of the AFL’s annual Indigenous Round in 2013.
He said he was gutted by the slur, saying at the time that “racism has a face and it’s a 13-year-old girl”.
He faced criticism for embarrassing the young girl by singling her out, but maintained that racist taunts should be called out, no matter who is behind them.
It’s a position consistent with the message of the “Racism. It Stops With Me” campaign, of which Goodes is an ambassador.
The girl later penned a letter of apology, explaining she did not realise the word was racist.
But the teen’s mother re-ignited the issue on Thursday, telling Fairfax Media she believes Goodes owes her daughter an apology for the “unfair” treatment she received from MCG security staff and police.
‘It’s provocative. It’s not necessary’
While a number of state and federal leaders have come out in support of Goodes, West Australian Premier Colin Barnett directed his criticism at indigenous players, urging them not to celebrate goals with traditional “war dances”.
“To the AFL, and I think to Aboriginal footballers, I think you could back off a little bit – don’t re-enact the spear throwing,” he said.
“It’s provocative. It’s not necessary. So both sides – get over it. Calm down, and lets just play football.”
Criticism of Goodes is reminiscent of that directed at indigenous player Nicky Winmar, who in 1993 responded to racist taunts, by lifting his shirt and pointing to his skin – indicating he was proud to be black.
The President of Collingwood at the time responded by saying that “as long as they [indigenous players] conduct themselves like white people, well, off the field, everyone will admire and respect them”.
‘It’s gone on for too long and it’s gone on for too far’
Klugman says while no one had used the same words in their criticism of Goodes, the argument was the same.
“That the underlying logic that is still there – that you need to behave as if you’re white, as if that’s the best way of being and as if that’s the peak of civilisation,” he said.
“Those notions of racial inferiority, which Australia was founded on, they remain just under the surface because as a nation we’ve never had proper conversations about that.”
Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane told the ABC the AFL needs to take steps to address racism.
“It’s gone on for too long and it’s gone on for too far,” he said.
“It’s time for people to give Adam Goodes the respect he deserves. He is a champion of football, an advocate for human rights and a man of integrity. He doesn’t deserve this kind of contest as we saw last weekend, there is an element of racial malice involved.”
Indigenous NRL stars Jonathan Thurston and Greg Inglis will perform a traditional Aboriginal war dance at matches this weekend to lead a rally cry of support for Goodes.
Richmond players have also come out in support of Goodes, and will wear their Dreamtime guernseys during their Friday night match.
This whole Adam Goodes drama is ridiculous. The public can boo or chant whoever’s name they want ! It’s nothing to do with being racist….
— Shane Warne (@ShaneWarne) July 30, 2015