Do Better report authors Larissa Behrendt, Lindon Coombes urge Magpies to welcome truth on racism at club sparked by Heritier Lumumba racism experience


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In the report, which identified systemic racism within the club, truth telling was identified as a “constructive step to better understand the experiences of Indigenous people and people of colour at Collingwood”.

Coombes said he understood why individuals might become defensive when matters were raised relating to racism but said it was critical that “as an organisation [Collingwood] need to have that professionalism and maturity” to address the concerns properly.

He said implementing the recommendations would help them reach a place where the club was a safe space to detail experiences and raise issues, with Behrendt saying that genuinely inclusive environments also helped athletes perform better.

“They should be encouraging it,” Coombes said.

Do Better co-author Professor Larissa Behrendt.

The club did not comment on Thursday when former Magpie rookie Shae McNamara took to social media to share his experiences in relation to Lumumba, with Behrendt saying that example indicated organisations need to have proper process, systems and values to deal with matters when they occur.

Lumumba’s claims from incidents raised seven years ago remain unresolved with the 34-year-old lodging legal action against the club last year.

“We can look at the fact that people can speak as a positive and that is why it is important for the club to think about how they engage in a truth-telling process to bring people into that, rather than continuing to have it in social media, so there is a more welcoming space for people to talk about things that they want to say,” Behrendt said.

The co-authors said it was important to acknowledge that the club had made advances in recent years with their decision to commission an independent report, which involved interviewing 30 people including six ex-players, current club personnel and eight people from outside the club but within the AFL, indicating that shift.

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In writing the Do Better report the co-authors examined policies, procedures, what was on the public record as to how previous incidents were managed, and drew on their experience in compiling similar reports for other organisations.

They said Collingwood had an opportunity to eventually become recognised as a leader in anti-racism and inclusion and explained how they reached the conclusion that systemic racism existed within the club.

Behrendt said it was important to understand that dealing with systemic racism was not about calling individuals out but about examining organisational dynamics and whether there were systems in place that were anti-racist and inclusive.

“Just getting cultural competency doesn’t cure [systemic racism],” Behrendt said.

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“That is probably something in our report that was skipped over. It wasn’t just a focus on education … that idea you just do some cultural-sensitivity training and everything is better [is misguided] because that doesn’t matter if there is not a set of values and there is not those procedures and protocols [in place].

“At Collingwood, if you did have a complaint you might speak to someone and they might take it seriously and try to raise it with somebody, but if there is no actual process in place there is no way to implement that. You are further constrained by the fact that there was no evidence or guarantee that there was enough cultural competency to be able to navigate that [situation].”

That failures kept occurring meant the issue was systemic and positive outcomes relied on individuals rather than supportive systems and processes.

“Anti-discrimination and employment law – as we make a point of in the review – requires you to do [certain things], so it is not about being politically correct,” Behrendt said.

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“You have an obligation as an employer … it is not us accusing people of being racist. What we are saying is you have a systemic problem and you have a legal responsibility to fix it independent of whether you think race is important or not.”

Behrendt said people needed to focus on the report rather than individuals.

She said she was personally moved by the current playing group’s response to the report and that it was clear the people within the club had a real appetite to implement the report’s recommendations.

“The response of their playing group showed the level of leadership they have got within the club. People have focused on the top down and the board but if you look at how the playing group responded you see leadership there already,” Behrendt said.

Coombes said many of the people he interviewed reflected on how they and the club might have handled situations better if the right systems had been in place.

“Anti-racism actually puts the responsibility on you to proactively look at those situations,” Coombes said.

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Collingwood must focus on truth telling and other ways to address racism, says Distinguished Professor Larissa Behrendt


Truth telling is a key commitment made by the Collingwood Football Club following the ‘Do Better’ review into systemic racism, according to the report’s lead author.

Speaking for the first time since the review was leaked two weeks ago Distinguished Professor Larissa Behrendt says it is important the immediate reaction to it does not overshadow its main purpose.

“I think it’s really easy in these circumstances to think it’s all about one person… in a review that has identified structural systemic racism, it’s always bigger than that,” she told The Ticket.

“I think you also risk drawing the conclusion that an individual can make a difference and therefore that there’s no work to do moving on.”

The challenge faced by organisations like Collingwood in addressing issues of racism are manifold, but crucially there must be an understanding of what systemic racism is, and how to get rid of it.

The club itself has established an Expert Group on Anti-Racism to assist it in implementing all 18 review recommendations.

“Structural racism is usually something that sits within an organisation that has sat there since it was constructed with the original philosophy,” Professor Larissa Behrendt said.

“A really good example is the Australian constitution, which has a structural racism, because when it was set up it was with the view that it should allow racial discrimination to facilitate a White Australia policy.

“People come and go from the organisation, and unless they are addressing those underlying prejudices those biases still sit there.

“So it’s often very hard to challenge them to say, ‘actually there is something wrong’.

“I believe very strongly… people are often brought to truth telling kicking and screaming, [but] if you choose to go down that path, if you see it as a positive, that you can learn from it.

“It can make a big difference to the sort of institution you are in the future and how the people within that institution feel then it can actually be a really positive experience.”

Professor Behrendt, a director of the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research at UTS, says there are numerous ways to address racism including “the really important process of truth telling and dealing with the past”.

“That’s the work that I hope is focussed on now.”

Commissioning the review should not mean a “line in the sand” separating the club’s history from its present, according to Professor Behrendt, because the impact of the past is still being felt today by those who have suffered.

“So they could not avoid that path even if they wanted to.”

During the review process some of those interviewed were “quite reflective”, according to Professor Behrendt, “with the passage of time understanding that perhaps the things they’d assumed about racism years ago were quite unreflective”.

“The challenge is how do you take those individuals in certain parts of the club and make sure that’s the response of the club as a whole,” she said.

Adam Goodes looks on after Swans' loss to West Coast
Retired Sydney Swans great Adam Goodes is one player who experienced racism while playing against the Magpies.(AAP: Tony McDonough)

While much of the work at Collingwood will happen internally, those who are now outside the club and lost to the sport must be heard, says Professor Behrendt, such as former club player Héritier Lumumba, as well as Joel Wilkinson and Adam Goodes, who experienced racism while playing against Collingwood.

“A report like this doesn’t happen without the ongoing advocacy of people who are brave enough to challenge really powerful hierarchies and really powerful people,” she said.

“I feel very strongly that those voices need to be heard.

“It was one of the reasons why my team decided not to do media when the report first leaked, because we felt it was a really appropriate time to give voice to those who had not been heard or who had tried to speak out and had paid a huge public price for it.

“When I listen to them and hear the power of what they’ve got to say the other thing that strikes me is a big thing that drives their bravery in speaking out is not a personal justification or vindication but a real commitment to try and make sure this doesn’t happen again, that younger people coming through the game and into the game are not put off by what they see happening to their heroes and the stars of the game.

“Quite a few people said to us…when we were interviewing them, ‘actually if anyone could do the change, Collingwood was quite well placed to do it’… I just think that’s an interesting observation to make.”

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