Collingwood accused of 'systemic racism' in bombshell report

Sam Goodwin
·Sports Editor
·5-min read
Heritier Lumumba, pictured here during a game for Collingwood in 2014.
Heritier Lumumba looks on during a game for Collingwood in 2014. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

An independent review commissioned by Collingwood has found the AFL club is guilty of “systemic racism”.

The Herald Sun published details of the 35-page report on Monday, which found the club’s response to numerous incidents of alleged racism “has been at best ineffective, or at worst exacerbated the impact”.

‘SHEER JOY’: Footy fans melt over 'beautiful' AFLW moment

‘ALWAYS BE MISSED’: Jacinda Barclay honoured in AFLW tribute

“There is a gap between what Collingwood Football Club says it stands for and what it does,” the report says, according to the Herald Sun.

“While claims of racism have been made across the AFL, there is something ­distinct and egregious about Collingwood’s history.

“There is a culture of individuals, if not quite being bigger than the club, then at least having an unhealthy degree of influence over club culture.”

The Collingwood board is said to have received the report more than a month ago, just days before Eddie McGuire announced he would be stepping down as club president at the end of 2021.

In announcing his resignation, McGuire vowed to “spend the rest of my time as president setting up a new era of Collingwood.”

“I have much to do before I hand on the baton, together with my board and executive we are set to announce significant landmark initiatives in the area of equality, the fight against racism to ensure Collingwood is a safe and welcoming environment for al people, and more on that in due course,” McGuire said at the time.

Eddie McGuire, pictured here at AFL House in 2013.
Eddie McGuire at a special meeting of all 18 AFL Club Presidents at AFL House in 2013. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Review commissioned after Heritier Lumumba claims

The review was commissioned following a number of explosive claims from former player Heritier Lumumba.

Lumumba, who is of Brazilian and Congolese heritage, has filed a writ in the Supreme Court of Victoria alleging his former club breached its duty of care and contractual obligations.

The writ also claimed both the club and the AFL failed to provide a safe working environment.

Lumumba, 33, has previously claimed he was nicknamed “chimp” while at the club.

“On numerous occasions during his employment, the plaintiff (Lumumba) was subjected to racial abuse or racially-offensive conduct,” said the documents, lodged in October.

Lumumba, who made 199 appearances for Collingwood during a 10-year stint that ended in 2014, claimed both players and club employees were responsible.

The suit said Collingwood and the AFL should have been aware of what was happening and intervened, contending he suffered “loss, damage, and injury including trauma, humiliation, distress, and loss of enjoyment”.

The review of Collingwood’s culture was conducted by Distinguished Professor Larissa Behrendt and Professor Lindon Coombes of the University of Technology in Sydney.

Heritier Lumumba, pictured here in action for Collingwood during an AFL game in 2014.
Heritier Lumumba in action for Collingwood during an AFL game in 2014. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

The review did not include ­Lumumba’s allegations because he did not wish to participate, but the report said his claims were worthy of a separate probe.

“Individuals have paid a high cost for speaking out against racism at the club,” the report says.

“What is clear is that racism at the club has resulted in profound and enduring harm to First Nations and African players. The racism affected them, their communities, and set dangerous norms for the public.”

The report acknowledged Lumumba’s claims cast “a spotlight over the internal processes and structures that this review is tasked to look at”.

It said “important and positive steps have been taken by the club in the past few years”.

“This has included the appointment of a First Nations person to the board, the introduction of new policies that more directly target racism and the appointment of a new CEO who has a commitment to making changes.

“It needs to be noted and underlined that, in undertaking this review, the club was unflinching in holding up a mirror to itself.

“It was a brave first step that few would have the courage to take and shows the seriousness with which the club takes the issue.”

However the report also claimed there was an “absence of clear and trusted avenues through which complaints could be made”.

“All of this comes back to the leadership of the Collingwood Football Club - particularly its board - and the need for them to set the vision and values of the club and to drive structural change within the organisation.”

AFL greats react to ‘damning’ report

Reacting to the report on Monday, Essendon great Tim Watson said the claims were “damning” for McGuire and the Collingwood board.

“It is damning about the leadership,” Watson said on SEN. “It is damning about him and his leadership.

“All this comes back to the leadership of the Collingwood Football Club, particularly its board.”

Melbourne great Garry Lyon said the report had vindicated Lumumba.

“Does Heritier Lumumba feel vindicated this morning?” Lyon said.

“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 railing against for a long time – ‘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’ – ‘Yeah, OK, we’ll look into it, we’ll look into it’ and yet he claims that they haven’t been.

“That’s what seems to have been vindicated here.

“(The report) does say there is a culture of individuals having unhealthy influence over this footy club and people would read into that what they will, but that would be pointed at Eddie, I would imagine, given that he reins pretty much supreme over the footy club.”

with agencies

Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.