Basketball ACT acknowledges the need for further cultural training and education after allegations 12-year-old girls were called a racist name at a junior basketball game in Canberra.
- Juniors in a local Indigenous basketball club, the Winnunga Warriors, said an opposition under-14s team used racially offensive language against them
- Basketball ACT CEO David Simpson apologised to the club and noted Basketball Australia was developing a Reconciliation Action Plan for all teams
- ACT Discrimination Commissioner Karen Toohey says all Canberrans must know racial vilification is not only unacceptable, but against the law
The Winnunga Warriors, a local Indigenous club, were playing in an under-14s competition on Saturday when members of the other team allegedly used racially offensive language against them.
Winnunga Warriors founder, president and 2018 ACT Australian of the Year Dion Devow tweeted on Sunday that the derogatory word had “broken” his heart.
“Racism never seems to end!” he tweeted.
“Players on my daughter’s basketball team were called Coons yesterday on their first game back. Have we not learnt anything of late?”
On Thursday, the chief executive officer of Basketball ACT, David Simpson, spoke publicly about the allegations.
“For us, this incident has highlighted … a need for further training and education, even if it is just to reinforce cultural awareness and values,” Mr Simpson said.
“But our response to this needs to be quite considered.
Parents of the Winnunga Warriors players called for cultural awareness training in the competition.
Mr Simpson said Basketball ACT had “in the past held Indigenous awareness and cultural awareness seminars”, but conceded there had not been any recent education, and none during his tenure as chief executive.
He said he had reached out to the Winnunga Warriors Basketball Club to apologise for their distress over the incident.
An investigation has been ongoing, but all parties have now spoken to Basketball ACT officials.
“There are a lot of sensitivities,” Mr Simpson said.
“Particularly around the age [and] maturity of the players, and particularly … to ensure the process is appropriate for people of that age.”
He said the local basketball competition was “very multicultural” and Basketball ACT engaged with the Indigenous community “quite a bit”.
“They’re a very solid part of our own community,” he said.
“It’s also worth noting that Basketball Australia is … developing a Reconciliation Action Plan … which Basketball ACT will be a part of.
“That will partly inform our approach going forward as well.”
Similar incidents last year were not dealt with: parent
Ngunnawal man and father of four Richie Allan said reading about the Warriors’ experience felt like he was experiencing “déjà vu”.
“Again, it’s racism. You know, it’s derogatory words. Basketball is supposed to be a safe environment,” he said.
Mr Allan has criticised Basketball ACT’s approach to racism ever since he complained to the organisation when his son was allegedly racially abused last year.
“It affected him not only mentally, but physically,” Mr Allan said.
“It’s draining. Week after week, it just kept happening.
“But you have to … at some time say, ‘You know what, it’s probably better mentally and physically for me to just walk away.'”
The Allan family had felt dismissed after Basketball ACT “came to their conclusion that nothing happened,” Mr Allan said.
He was relieved the issue of addressing racism in local sport was again on the agenda, saying it put Basketball ACT “back in the spotlight”.
“We tried to educate. We tried to help and support, but when you don’t want help and support, how are you going to move forward?” he said.
Mr Simpson was not CEO of Basketball ACT when Mr Allan spoke out in 2019, but he said he was aware of the allegation.
“I’m aware there was a complaint prior … but I’m not in a position to speak about that,” Mr Simpson said.
‘Bullying on the grounds of race requires a very specific response’
ACT Discrimination Commissioner Karen Toohey said Basketball ACT needed to engage with the Aboriginal community to help address the issue “so that they don’t try and do it through a policy or something on their website”.
The Black Lives Matter movement and global COVID-19 pandemic had thrust discussions around race into the public conscience, she said, exposing divisive language and racism to youth through mainstream media and online.
“We do protect people from vilification on the grounds of race in the ACT, but unfortunately we have seen an increase in the number of those reports and formal complaints over the last six months,” Ms Toohey said.
She said Basketball ACT also needed to reinforce to players and parents that racist behaviour was illegal.
“Bullying on the grounds of race requires a very specific response,” she said. “It’s not something where you can say, ‘Please don’t do it.'”
Ms Toohey said she was disappointed to hear the alleged language was spoken at a sporting competition for young Indigenous girls.
“Sport is one of the most meaningful engagements kids have [to socialise and be] part of a team and the last thing we want is for them to be racially vilified,” she said.
A Canberra Capital comes out in support of girls
The Winnunga Warriors have received an outpouring of support since the weekend, including a heart-felt video message from the Canberra Capitals’ Marianna Tolo.
“I just want to say I read about your story and I am so sorry you have experienced some racism in your latest game,” Tolo said in the video.
Tolo also extended an invitation to the Winnunga Warriors’ juniors urging them to attend the Capitals’ next home game.
The young squad enthusiastically accepted the invitation from their hero.