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Almost a third of Indigenous AFL athletes and players of colour experienced racism, survey finds

A closeup on an AFL football
A new AFL Player’s Association survey has found many players have experienced racism, including from people within the industry. Photograph: Joe Castro/AAP

The players’ union will survey former AFL players regarding their experiences of racism after a third of 92 current players who identified as Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander or a person of colour reported incidents.

The AFL Players’ Association’s first Insights and Impact Report also found less than one-fifth of AFL players who have experienced racism in the game felt their matter was sufficiently dealt with and showed “concerning” incidences of vilification from people in the industry.

The report, released on Thursday amid the disturbing allegations of the Hawthorn racism review, found that of the 92 players surveyed who identified as Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander or a person of colour, 29 had experienced racism while listed as an AFL player.

Of those, only 17% felt the incidents were dealt with entirely to their satisfaction while 21% felt they were “somewhat or partially” dealt with and 62% felt they were not dealt with at all.

“This disappointing response highlights an area of future focus for the industry,” the report said.

Fifteen of the 29 said they had experienced racism within the last 12 months.

The most common incidents of racism were reported to have occurred on social media (26), with spectators at games being the next most prevalent (13), followed by when playing at community level (10), publicly (10) and in the media (4).

However, what the AFLPA found “more concerning were reported incidences of vilification from people within the industry”. These included three inflicted by players or staff of other clubs, two by the AFL, two by teammates and one by staff at their own club.

Not all players surveyed provided the source of the racism.

The AFLPA chief executive, Paul Marsh, said the findings meant it was necessary to look to the past as well – even though he expected a smaller response rate.

“What’s come through this report will lead to us doing this research in the next edition with past players as well,” Marsh told Guardian Australia.

“We’ve got over 4,000 past players as members, so there’ll be other issues. Without defending the industry, I think there have been improvements made. So if you asked the same sorts of questions of the past, over a longer timeframe, I would expect – and I’m speculating here – we’ll see greater answers.

“If we’re going to move forward as an industry, we’ve got to understand and address the issues in the past, so that’s something that we’re certainly working on.”

The AFLPA’s survey used a specific set of racism questions it said were developed as a result of Collingwood’s Do Better report “to explore the confidence of all AFL players to recognise and respond to racism at their club or while playing football”.

It recommended the continued education of players, coaches, administrators and fans “about the impacts of racism and their need to play a role in the fight against racism”.

More than half of all players surveyed said they would welcome more support, tools and education to equip them to confidently respond to incidents of racism. This was despite high levels of confidence on how to recognise and respond to racism.

“Racism continues to be an issue within the industry and the AFLPA will soon launch its Human Rights Framework that will help us respect, protect and promote human rights, firstly within the AFLPA itself, and then more broadly across the industry,” the report said. “We hope this will be a game-changing piece of work.”

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