A damning report about the internal conduct of Collingwood Football Club has found the AFL club is plagued with systemic racism and must significantly reform its “toxic environment”.
The independent investigation, commissioned by the Club’s Board last year, found Collingwood has consistently failed to appropriately deal with incidents of racism, noting the inadequacy goes all the way to the top.
“All of this comes back to the leadership of the Collingwood Football Club – particularly its Board – and the need for them to set the vision and values of the Club and to drive structural change within the organisation,” the report said.
The investigation was conducted by Kamilaroi/Yuwaalaraay woman and Distinguished Professor Larissa Behrendt and Professor Lindon Coombes from the University of Technology Sydney and delivered to the club on December 17.
Out of the 30 interviews conducted, not one interviewee could decisively identify what the Club’s values were.
“While claims of racism have been made across the AFL, there is something distinct and egregious about Collingwood’s history,” the report said.
“There is a gap between what Collingwood Football Club says it stands for and what it does.”
The report made 18 recommendations, including that the club develop a framework to respond to racism in a proactive way, rather than reactive or defensive, which was also identified in the report.
Although the Club now has internal policies in place to address racism and other inappropriate conduct, these avenues only came into effect in 2020.
It was also recommended the Club create a truth-telling process as part of its internal education programs to ensure a deeper understanding of the experience of First Nations people and People of Colour.
In response to the report’s leak, Collingwood Board Members Djab Wurrung/Gunditjmara woman Jodie Sizer, Peter Murphy, and Club President Eddie McGuire fronted the media at a press conference on Monday.
Sizer said the report was a commitment of Collingwood’s “leadership in truth-telling”.
“We need to continue with the doing, and the doing requires us to learn … and often unlearn,” she said.
“It is now time for Collingwood to meet the moment.”
McGuire said it was “a day of pride” for the Club, adding that he wants it to be a community conversation, “not just … an Indigenous conversation”.
“There was not systemic racism as such, we just didn’t have the processes in place as we look back now to do the job we would like to have done,” he said.
McGuire’s comments have since been criticised, with many calling for his resignation as Club President and AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan saying he would have “articulated things differently”.
McLachlan said the AFL received the report on Monday and that the organisation would review its recommendations.
“This has never been about an individual. It needs to be a whole-of-club approach, and frankly, a whole-of-industry approach,” McLachlan said.
McGuire has since apologised for the comments, saying he “got it wrong”.
“I said it was a proud day for Collingwood, and I shouldn’t have,” he said at the Club’s Annual General Meeting on Tuesday.
While former Collingwood player, Heritier Lumumba triggered the investigation after allegations of years of racism at the club, he chose not to participate in the report.
Lumumba has responded to the report, however, labelling the Club’s response as “shameful”.
“Instead of addressing the findings in the report, they issued a whole [lot] of meaningless statements, refusing to show accountability for the past and dismissed addressing historical complaints as ‘semantics’,” Lumumba told Guardian Australia.
“We should be clear that the internal review only happened as a result of public pressure that built after I went public with my claims, and that the report was only published at all because it was leaked.”
Lumumba is suing Collingwood for allegedly dismissing his claims of racism and breaching their duty of care. His claims against the club are currently before the courts.
By Hannah Cross