Powerful, sobering, attention demanding, shattering.
These words can all be used to describe Ian Darling’s new documentary The Final Quarter.
The documentary chronicles the final three years of AFL great Adam Goodes and the racial vilification he endured.
Made entirely of archival footage, the movie shows how the Australian public acted during this time.
Divisive figures in the film include The Footy Show’s Sam Newman, Collingwood Football Club President Eddie McGuire, and conservative political commentator Andrew Bolt who all fed a fire fuelled by misunderstanding and miscommunication.
Eddie McGuire’s comments are again thrust into the spotlight as the Australian public remembers his casual racism on-air toward Mr Goodes, occurring just days after Goodes was called an ‘ape’ at the Collingwood-Sydney Indigenous round match of 2013.
The Final Quarter’s director, Ian Darling, told NIT he felt no need to shoot additional footage as everyone had already shown their true colours in the moment.
“An accurate record of the time was there in the mountain of broadcast material that we’d assembled,” Mr Darling said.
Mr Darling said he felt uncomfortable the issue was so easily sidelined and that he wanted to “put a mirror back to Australia.”
Although Mr Darling is aware the film may stir up public debate again, he said this would be evidence Australia hasn’t properly dealt with these events.
“As a nation, we haven’t finished the conversation about racism that Adam Goodes asked us to have,” Mr Darling said.
Adam Goodes has given his total support to the film, despite not taking part in its production.
“As confronting as I have found the film, I look forward to the conversation it will help generate,” Mr Goodes said.
Like a punch to the face
As the film makes the rounds to AFL clubs, executives, greats of the game and the media before being released to the public later in the year, some have spoken out about their reaction to the film.
Retired AFL player Des Headland, who played for the Fremantle Dockers and Brisbane Lions, wrote an opinion piece for The Age and said viewing The Final Quarter felt like “a punch in the face.”
Mr Headland told NIT that Adam Goodes was “absolutely” racially vilified and that watching the documentary was heartbreaking.
“You feel stunned. You know, you get a big knock in footy and you sit there stunned, and for a split second you look numb and you don’t know what to do,” Mr Headland said.
“That’s the sort of reaction I got, but also everyone else. It was a sad moment.”
Mr Headland watched the documentary with over 80 current players, some past players, and other AFL executives and he said the entire room was silent after the documentary as everyone was in a state of disbelief.
“To actually see the comments that [went] to air … it was disappointing,” Mr Headland said.
“It just shows how courageous [Adam Goodes] really is, to go through what he went through and to come out like he has, I don’t think I could’ve done that.”
Now Mr Headland is interim Chair for the Indigenous Players Alliance, a new advocacy group for Indigenous AFL and AFLW players that promotes cultural safety.
“In the past we’ve missed out on opportunities to help better our brothers and our sisters to be able to succeed in life away from football,” Mr Headland said.
“We want to work with the AFL, the media, the whole industry itself, to keep them accountable for our players – men and women.”
Registered only late last year, the Alliance is already picking up some big names as members.
So far, Michael O’Loughlin, Gavin Wanganeen, Michael Long and the majority of current Indigenous players are on board.
The Indigenous Players Alliance plans to officially launch within the next six to eight weeks.
General Manager Dr Sean Gorman said the Alliance’s main purpose is to “advocate on behalf of Indigenous players both past and present” and embed cultural leadership into the industry.
“The issues Aboriginal players face are somewhat different to those that the broader general playing population experiences,” Dr Gorman said.
Dr Gorman said they have identified key gaps such as the need for Indigenous Liaison Officers at all clubs, club cultural competency, issues of casual racism and having more Indigenous board members in the AFL.
The general manager said you only have to watch The Final Quarter to see that these issues are still relevant.
“It’s very powerful. It’s stark. What it goes to show is something like that can happen to any player of any cultural or ethnic background,” Dr Gorman said.
“[Journalist] Waleed Aly summed it up the best [in the documentary] when he said the reason people are booing is because they’re booing their discomfort.”
Dr Gorman said The Final Quarter allows the audience to see how dignified Adam Goodes was during those years and how sophisticated he was in clearly articulating his position.
“By and large, [the general feedback I’ve heard] has been one of general outrage to incredulity, sadness … the fact that we lost a great player to a situation which the AFL didn’t know how to control,” Dr Gorman said.
Dr Gorman has high hopes for the way these situations will be handled in future and he said he believes many people have reflected on what happened and learnt from it.
“We just cannot allow it to happen again,” Dr Gorman said.
Dr Gorman said education is a key factor in preventing these situations and that the Indigenous Players Alliance is integral to the surrounding discussions.
Playing it forward
Last week the AFL issued a formal apology to Adam Goodes the day The Final Quarter was being aired to the public at Sydney Film Festival.
“We apologise unreservedly for our failures during this period,” the statement from the AFL said.
“Failure to call out racism and not standing up for one of our own, let down all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players, past and present.”
While AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan was reluctant four years ago to call out the racism aimed at Adam Goodes, AFL General Manager of Inclusion and Social Policy Tanya Hosch told NIT she believes more needs to be done looking forward.
“I think we need to be prepared for the fact that [racism in sport] is not going to go away.”
Ms Hosch said a number of Indigenous players and players of colour in the AFL have been racially vilified on social media as early as preseason.
“We’ve got a new frontier to address in relation to this through social media.”
Ms Hosch said the AFL has been heavily involved with helping set up the Indigenous Players Alliance.
“The IPA is an organisation that has great capacity to really help support and guide the industry in how to do this work better,” Ms Hosch said.
“An independent voice like that is only going to be a great asset.”
Ms Hosch said she is keen to work in partnership with the Alliance once it is officially launched.
By Hannah Cross