An act of celebration by Indigenous footballer Adam Goodes at the Sydney Cricket Ground earlier this year brought the issue of racial discrimination back onto the public agenda, igniting a very public debate on the issue last month. As the Herald Sun reported, the 35-year-old Swans player ‘war-danced’ provocatively towards Carlton fans in the crowd after his team scored a goal mid-match during the annual AFL Indigenous Round in May earlier this year. The opposition spectators at whom this dance was targeted met him with booing and jeering; with police and security attending but no charges laid. The ABC reported that following the match, Goodes described his war dance as a tribute to Aboriginals in sport. He said that spectators’ anger towards his actions showed a misunderstanding.
As a follower of both the Swans and of Carlton, I was at the SCG that day and observed what appeared to be an unprovoked gesture by Goodes toward Carlton supporters, which seemed out of place in the context of the match. So it is in my view understandable that such a misunderstanding may have occurred. Unlike New Zealand’s pre-match ancestral war cry, “the haka” performed by Kiwi national sporting teams toward their opposition, Goodes’ dance was not a ‘known’ ritual that sporting crowds have come to expect.
Following the incident, public opinion was divided as to whether negative crowd reactions to his dance reflected poor judgement on Goodes’ part, or a broader racist undercurrent against indigenous players. Over several weeks the matter however escalated with excessive booing and crowd hostility toward Goodes saw him taking time off away from the sport to recover.
As the 2013 Australian of the Year, Goodes has been a strong advocate for indigenous issues and highlighting the significant contribution that indigenous people have made to Australian sport. While the issues surrounding Goodes have drifted from the front page of newspapers, the incident has highlighted the ongoing challenges and risks faced in assuring tolerance of all across the community and in sport.