Collingwood’s challenge is everyone’s challenge

Make no mistake, Collingwood Football Club’s challenge to undo systemic racism is everyone’s challenge – together

Associate Professor Luke Burchill, University of Melbourne

 Associate Professor Luke Burchill

Published 11 February 2021

Surely no-one in this day and age can honestly believe that systemic racism is isolated to Collingwood or for that matter just to the footy clubs across our great nation? The truth is systemic racism plays out every day across the places we live, work, play, and learn.

Therefore, the journey that Collingwood must now take is the journey we must all take if we are to tackle racism and start building culturally safe spaces that work for all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike.

The journey that Collingwood must now take is the journey we must all take if we are to tackle racism. Picture: Getty Images

As an Aboriginal doctor, cardiologist, and researcher, I am often asked for solutions on how to Close the Gap for Aboriginal health outcomes.

Since heart disease is one of the major drivers of the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, you might think the solution lies in our interventions – heart pills, stents for blocked coronary arteries, pacemakers, and so on.

The truth is that we can only close the gap by preventing heart disease in the first place. That begins with us understanding that health starts in the places we share our lives – our homes, schools, workplaces, neighbourhoods, clubs and communities.

If we apply this lens to Collingwood it becomes clear that systemic racism isn’t only a threat to the culture of an organisation but also for the health of those working within it.

We have now witnessed generations of men whose health has suffered as a direct result of racism expressed from the footy field to the changing room and to the boardroom. As painfully depicted in the documentary The Australian Dream, we were unable to protect Adam Goodes against the most malignant national display of systemic racism even when its impacts were in plain view.

The experiences of Héritier Lumumba indicate the cancer of racism persists.

Just as attention has turned to the cumulative effects of concussion on AFL players health, we need to understand ongoing exposure to racism is dangerous and has a ripple effect that is felt across generations.

Footballer Adam Goodes experienced one of the most malignant national displays of systemic racism. Picture: Getty Images

Recent research from the Jumbunna Institute of Indigenous Education and the Diversity Council of Australia speaks to the urgency with which we need to address systemic racism.

Surveying 1,033 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the report found that 59 per cent experienced racism at work based on their appearance, 44 per cent reported hearing racial slurs and 38 per cent reported being treated unfairly because of their Indigenous background.

Only one in five worked in organisations with formal procedures or policies for responding to racism.

If we truly believe that giving people a ‘fair go’ is a shared national value, then we need to tackle racism together – not just in our footy clubs but across all the places we seek to work, play, learn, share, and celebrate our lives.

We need to understand racism not only as a political issue but a health and human rights issue.

By directly confronting racism, the Collingwood Football Club Do Better Report is a decisive moment not only for Australian sport but for our nation as a whole.

Together we have observed that in this day and age real leadership must include an ability to listen and respond to the truth as told by those best placed to determine whether racism exists or not.

With time one can only hope that the greatest learning from this important moment isn’t that systemic racism exists, but that it is something we can all stand against as we seek to do better – together.

Banner: Getty Images

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