A former Australian Rules Footballer of Nigerian descent is taking legal action against the sport for alleged racial, sexual and religious discrimination. Joel Wilkinson says the abuse he suffered was a “continuous breach of human rights” and insists that racism is rife in Australia’s most popular professional sport. It is thought to be the first case of its kind in Australia.
In 2014, Wilkinson appeared in an anti-discrimination advert sponsored by the Australian Football League, the AFL in which he spoke of the abuse he had suffered on the field.
“I actually felt like he was trying to make me feel like I was a little kid, a little black kid, a little piece of dirt.”
But the former Gold Coast Suns player now alleges that the League’s public stance on racism is very different from what he says is a “much darker reality.” He insists that his career ended abruptly in 2013 because he was so outspoken about the mistreatment he endured.
He is taking his case for compensation to Australia’s Human Rights Commission after talks with the AFL failed to reach an agreement.
“I have suffered extreme racism during my time in the AFL and post my career in the AFL until this very day,” said Wilkinson. “My career was taken from me. My rights were violated due to racism, religious vilification and racially-motivated sexual harassment that I experienced for many years.”
The AFL said in a statement that it was sorry the ex-player “had suffered experiences of racial abuse” during his time as a footballer, and that it was committed to resolving his complaint.
In 2013, a famous Aboriginal AFL player was taunted by a young spectator who called him an ape.’ The 13-year old girl later apologized for her behavior.
The competition is Australia’s most-watched professional sport. Matches in the city of Melbourne attract up to 100,000 fans. The Australian Football League has more than 80 Indigenous players, about 10 per cent of the total. It has also featured players with Jamaican, Lebanese and Sudanese heritage.
Rights groups have previously praised the League’s efforts to tackle racism in Australia.