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Radio host reignites Aussie rules racism row


In 1993, an Aboriginal Australian rules footballer, Nicky Winmar, lifted his jersey and pointed proudly at his black skin, in defiance of a spectator who was racially abusing him - an action captured in a photograph that seemed to mark a watershed in Australia's tolerance of racism.

Twenty years on, it seems little has changed. During a match last weekend, Adam Goodes, an Aboriginal player with the Australian rules team Sydney Swans, stood outraged on the pitch after a 13-year-old girl, a Collingwood supporter, called him an “ape”. The girl was ejected, and Collingwood's president, Eddie McGuire, apologised profusely, saying he was “devastated” that Goodes had been targeted. The club had organised “counselling services” for the girl, he added.

Today Mr McGuire - one of Australia's most colourful sports and media personalities - demonstrated that he, too, is in need of re-education. Presenting his regular breakfast programme on Triple M, a national pop and chat station, he astonished listeners by suggesting that Goodes could help promote the new King Kong musical, which is about to open in Melbourne. “You know, with the ape thing, the whole thing,” he told his co-host, Luke Darcy.

Once again, Mr McGuire was forced to apologise, even offering to step down from his role at Collingwood, a club that he said last week had zero tolerance of racism. “Let's not kid ourselves,” he said then. “Australia was a racist country for a long time.”

Some think it still is. Australia's Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission was forced to close down the comments link to a YouTube video entitled “Racism - It stops with me” and featuring Goodes and other sports stars, after it was attacked by “white supremacists and trolls”, according to The Australian newspaper.

Goodes, meanwhile, has behaved with dignity. At a press conference after last Friday's match, he said he was “shattered” by the incident, but defended the girl, who has not been named. “It's not her fault,” he said. “Unfortunately it's what she hears, it's the environment she's grown up in that makes her think it's OK to call people names.”

The girl has since apologised, saying she did not realise “ape” was a racist slur. Although she lives in Melbourne, the premier of New South Wales, Barry O'Farrell, has ordered the Education Department to re-circulate anti-racism material in schools.

The Australian Football League, which governs the sport, ordered Mr McGuire to attend “tolerance classes”, warning him he would be fined up to A$20,000 (£12,746) if he failed to comply. He blamed a “brain fade” for his comments, but added: “There's no excuse. I put my foot in it and I stand here today to say I did the wrong thing.”