Australian rules: Racism backfires on St Kilda player

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The Independent Online
A LEADING Australian Rules footballer has stood down for a month and effectively fined himself A$20,000 (pounds 8,100) yesterday after admitting to taunting a black opponent.

Peter Everitt also undertook to attend a four-week counselling course on Aboriginal issues. His decision, pre-empting a formal fine, was welcomed by the country's Aboriginal leaders after a spate of racial incidents on Australia's sporting fields this month.

Gatjil Djerrkura, the chairman of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, said football players and clubs were "now on clear notice that racist taunts will no longer be tolerated on the playing field and that a heavy price will be payed by offenders."

Everitt, who plays for St Kilda, admitted racially vilifying a Melbourne opponent, Scott Chisholm, during a match in Melbourne last Sunday.

He taunted Chisholm about the highly symbolic red, black and gold Aboriginal colours on his mouthguard and admitted using "other offensive terms".

"I put this discipline on myself and I've spoken to Scott, I'm going to undergo a four-week awareness program." Everitt said. "I've probably crossed a line that shouldn't be crossed."

Australian Rules, which has the highest number of Aboriginal players at the elite level of any Australian sport, introduced a Racial and Religious Vilification Code in 1995 after a series of racial spats. Up until now the code has never been used. Had Everitt not pre-empted a tribunal hearing, he could have been the first player punished under it.

The Everitt row came a week after another incident that stirred debate on the issue of racism in Australian Rules.

Sam Newman a former star player and current TV personality, painted his face black to impersonate the Aboriginal player Nicky Winmar after the Aboriginal player pulled out of an appearance on his show.

Winmar is a leading advocate of Aboriginality in the Australian Football League. In 1993, responding to taunts from opposing fans, he famously raised his jersey during a match against Collingwood and pointed to the colour of his skin.

Djerrkura said that, while Australia had a proud sporting tradition, the events of the past two weeks had threatened to stain its reputation.

"Racism is a corrosive phenomenon and strong leadership is needed to ensure it is quickly stamped out," he said.