Collingwood has tried to spin a positive light on a bombshell report declaring the AFL club is guilty of fostering “systemic racism” that “has resulted in profound and enduring harm to First Nations and African players”.
Instead of apologising, Pies president Eddie McGuire said this was a “historic and proud day” for Collingwood as he touted the club’s efforts in fighting for racial equality.
The Herald Sun exclusively obtained the 35-page report compiled by Professor Larissa Behrendt and Professor Lindon Coombes, which shines a damning spotlight on the culture at Collingwood.
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The findings come at the end of an independent investigation following claims of racism by former Magpies defender Heritier Lumumba. The report said a separate investigation into his circumstances was warranted and claimed “there is a gap between what Collingwood Football Club says it stands for and what it does”.
Asked about Lumumba’s refusal to sit down with his former club because he feels so hurt by his experiences and how his claims have been treated, McGuire said Collingwood will continue to reach out, adding “it breaks our heart” the backman doesn’t want to be part of the Magpie family.
“We’re not a mean-spirited club, we’re not a racist club,” McGuire said. “I hope this provokes conversation tonight in every household, in all of your workplaces.”
The investigation, which comprised of interviews with 30 people, found Collingwood’s responses to instances of alleged racism were “at best ineffective, or at worst exacerbated the impact of the racist incidents”.
The report also said Collingwood addresses claims of racism through the prism of protecting the club’s brand and reputation, rather than addressing the issues directly and instigating meaningful change.
Collingwood scheduled a press conference on Monday afternoon where McGuire, CEO Mark Anderson, board member Peter Murphy and fellow director Jodie Sizer fronted the media to address the alarming claims.
Sizer, an Indigenous woman, opened proceedings with a Welcome to Country, formally acknowledging the traditional owners of the land before McGuire continued, speaking of his pride and rejecting any suggestion he would step down from his role.
He said the Magpies were taking on a leading role in the fight against racism, adding: “We have spent the last six years in a deep dive into how we can make ourselves better, provide leadership and conversation in the community as only Collingwood can.
“We have decided as a club that this fight against racism and discrimination is where we want to be.
“We make mistakes. We learn, we strive to get better.
“We commissioned this report not to pay lip services to a worldwide tragedy, but to lay the foundations for our game, our people and our community.”
McGuire added the report “is not criticism, this is a review”, and was instigated because Collingwood wanted to “seize the moment” and “put ourselves in front of things”. He also denied any racist issues raised in the report were because of “intention”.
“I am extremely proud. I’ve been here a long time and we’ve done a lot of great things, and this is great,” he said.
“There have been issues throughout history. Not only at football clubs, but everywhere. We can argue semantics, but the tone of where we want to get to is how we go forward … rather than arguing the toss on individual issues.”
McGuire denied there was any “systemic racism” at the club, even though the report explicitly stated that was the case. Grilled how he could deny there were issues of racism at Collingwood given that’s what the report found, a bullish McGuire continued to spruik Collingwood’s achievements during his 22 years at the helm.
“What’s happened on my watch is we’ve built a fantastic club, we’ve commissioned this report, we’ve built all sorts of mechanisms for getting involved in the community, like looking after the homeless … of which we are very proud.
“It was not systemic racism, as such, we just didn’t have the processes to deal with it that we do now.
“I don’t think there’s any shame or disappointment here … this is a day of pride.”
McGuire also said Collingwood has “led the way” in the fight against racism since he became president 22 years ago. “There shouldn’t be anyone trying to have a ‘gotcha’ moment here,” he said.
“If we put ourselves up to be marked, and marked hard. We do so because we believe this is a spot we need to be in to show social justice, natural justice, and a leadership position.
“We’re not rejecting any part of the report. It’s not an investigation … We’re not gonna go after people or prosecute the case back,” he said.
“We wanted to find the feel out there, now we’ve got it, and we’re going to take on board the recommendations.”
Sizer also said she is “proud” of Collingwood, but admitted at times “it is hard being a blackfella and barracking for Collingwood”.
“There is 100 per cent commitment to doing better, and doing the work that needs to be done,” she said.
“I’m proud of our club for having the courage, and our board for accepting the recommendations. It is a landmark day.”
The report was delivered to the Collingwood board in December, just days after McGuire announced he would step down at the end of 2021.
Earlier on Monday AFL icon Tim Watson said the findings are a “damning” reflection of those at the top of the Pies hierarchy, adding: “All this comes back to the leadership of the Collingwood Football Club, particularly its board.”
Melbourne legend Garry Lyon said Lumumba’s gripes “seem to have been vindicated” by the report’s revelations.
“A lot of these things that have been reported on now, as a result of this independent review, are the things that he has been rallying against for a long time,” Lyon told SEN Breakfast.
“‘No one’s listening to me, I’ve made these claims, I’ve gone to the top, I’ve been swept under the carpet, I’ve been patted on the head’.
“(Collingwood say) ‘Yeah, OK, we’ll look into it, we’ll look into it’. And yet he claims that they haven’t been.”
McGuire was allegedly mentioned in the report for suggesting former Swans legend Adam Goodes should have been used to promote a King Kong musical after he was racially taunted by a young Collingwood fan.
Melbourne radio host Neil Mitchell called for McGuire to bring his planned departure forward, saying he had to leave now.
“He has been the face of Collingwood for 22 years, which is why he has to stand down now. Not the end of the season — now,” Mitchell said on 3AW.
“I don’t think for a moment he’s racist but if he accepts that he presided over an era of racism which wasn’t fixed, he wears it.”
Greens senator for Victoria Lidia Thorpe, a Gunnai Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung woman, also demanded McGuire step down.
“As the head of the club, Eddie not only oversaw these issues, he’s been part of the problem,” she said, per The Guardian.
“Heritier Lumumba was right to call out these issues, and he paid a huge price for it. Today, he’s been vindicated.”